My encounters with Forbidden Fare, by Amrita Valan

Updated: Mar 7

Guest writer for "The NZDream" blog

It is funny really, I never really got high on any substance, other than chocolates, ice cream, and loads of junk food.

I was a sheltered, middle-class Indian girl, growing up in a secluded colony of a British multinational. (where daddy worked). This meant I only had a limited group of people to call my friends.

These were on the whole westernized friends. It was the eighties. We were brought up on a steady diet of American sitcoms, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, and MTV.

Some of the high school and college boys indulged in substance abuse,

It was a very hush-hush affair. The Indian family is close-knit and clannish and traditional to a fault, and one boy’s downfall becomes the topic du jour of every third cousin.

thrice removed.

Anyhow, opportunities in the eighties to partake of LSD, Hashish, and the like weren’t prolific, as say in the second half of the nineties. The unholy fear that was instilled in us teenagers seems ludicrous now.

That of the street vendors peddling fast food but really dealing in junk food laced with drugs.

To get us all hooked early, it was touted!

So crisply fried hollow potato dumplings dipped in tangy tamarind juice, aka the delicious "phuchka" were particularly suspect.

High school urban legend had it the tamarind juice was laced with addictive drugs, to groom innocent middle school boys and girls at an early age into potential customers.

So that by the time we were in senior school we could provide dealers and pushers a steady reliable clientele.

All this was whispered in stagey tones, in the occasional schoolroom free period, or lunch

breaks to thrilled oohs and ah's!

As soon as school got over though, we rushed outside in a beeline for the

intoxicating taste of those potato dumplings, begging for extra spicy tamarind water.

But I was super clean of all dubious stuff till my tenth standard.

A friend of my big brother's was reputed to drink. Since he had a day’s stubble and reddish eyes, we girls were ready to believe he was a full-blown junkie.

He took full advantage of the situation to terrorize us when we were sixth graders. He claimed moms were regularly dosing us with “Brown sugar!”

“What do you think coffee is, huh?’, he snarled.

My friend Bhasha, who loved her milk laced with a pinch of coffee, paled noticeably. At home, she staunchly refused coffee in her milk for weeks, and in fact milk at all for a month, till her mother weaseled the story out of her!

After that? Well, Hell has no fury like a mother whose cub has been deprived of her milk! The so-called addict was suddenly completely cured, at least in front of us young ladies.

By the time I reached sixteen, rebellion was fomenting. It was the summer before my tenth standard. I was tired of playing MS. Goody Two Shoes. I had a reputation to keep up as the only girl who had tasted beer at age 12, anyway.

It had happened on a road trip taken jointly by a few of our colony families to the historical town of Berhampur.

Daddy had been stocking up on the sly, hiding a wee bit of cold, golden lager

in my school flask, taken along on the trip unbeknownst to me or my mother.

After a pit stop for lunch in the blazing hot afternoon sun, I felt incredibly thirsty and was delighted to spot my own blue flask on the front passenger seat. Now how did ma find refrigerated water to store for me in my flask? I wondered. I did not wonder long, instead opening the flask briskly.

I poured its contents straight down my parched throat, bottoms up, greedily, just as daddy, horrified, rushed into the driver’s seat, and tried to snatch the flask from me.

I had, however, already dropped the flask like a hot coal and gagged its contents all over baba’s pristine white shirt front and shoulders.

“EEooww! Water tastes like urine around here!”, I shuddered knowledgeably, as if I was a

gourmet connoisseur intimately acquainted with how urine tastes. Dad eyed me with glassy boiled fish eyes. I read his expression of utter resignation and bemusement without batting an eyelash.

But among the other boys and girls on that legendary trip, my reputation was now solid.

The skinny eggheaded 12-year-old Amrita had tasted "Amrit", (The nectar of the Gods).

Even before the teenagers in our group. “How did it taste?”, asked Toots, my buddy, enviously. “Like Ammonia,” I insisted, sticking doggedly to the urine simile.

Daddy turned to fix me with another full-bodied glare. I was unfazed by the paternal gaze.

The pride of his clan and apple of his eye looked back at him, ready with another “Eeeoww!” and exaggerated gag reflex.

He hurriedly offered me a huge white handkerchief and turned his head back. I heard Ma smirk nastily, “Serves you right, drinking and driving!” I could almost hear her unsaid accolades of “Well done, daughter!”

Daddy’s face started to take on a defeated sheepish look as he muttered about low alcohol content, the heat of the summer day, and the ill-timed presence of an impetuous blathering daughter.

Now, however, I had approximated the tenth grade without any further feathers on

my cap to display!

But somehow, I had been tagged as a daredevil.

The same brown sugar/crack-addicted boy, (Who will either remain nameless or referred to in future as Voldemort), now leaned on the colony club counter one summer afternoon, as we girls sat on high stools sipping ice-cold Cokes, Thumbs ups, and Pepsi. The club doubled as a simulacrum of an American drugstore, (without the drugs), selling fizzy soft drinks, ice creams, wafers, and snacks for children, and also catering to buffet lunches, cocktail parties, and dinners for the parent population.

One such small private party was on in full swing in a corner and the waiter's Rai and Haider had lined up bottles of Rum and Brandy to serve as needed on the countertop in front of us.

Every now and then, they went into the kitchen to emerge with a tray of snacks, leaving the impromptu bar temporarily unattended. Our expert crack addict, aka Voldemort egged us on to pour ourselves a drink while they were inside and eyed me hopefully. My eyes gleamed back. I was devilishly bored, and each time Rai and Haider absented themselves, I hastily poured a tiny lid full of rum down my skinny throat. It was warm, sweet, and delicious, not like that nasty beer.

Mr. Crack addict’s mouth fell open.

After the third lid full, I declare with a flushed face that I felt woozy, as Rai returned to stare at me suspiciously. My two girlfriends and Voldemort had to force me off the stool and drag me outside. The tigress cub had tasted blood.

But I didn’t become a man, or…rum eater, (or imbiber). Thank God for small mercies.

To be continued.

© Amrita Valan 2021





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