Just one drink – by Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna

In 1983 working with Warren Tea Limited, I was the Garden Assistant on Dhoedaam Estate in   Upper Assam in the DoomDooma area. Regardless of the age difference and the disparity in our seniority levels, Himmat Singh many years my senior and a Senior Manager on Tara, another one of the Warren Estates in the district, had become one of my very close friends. One of the many  friends whose bungalow we would happily drop in to unannounced.

This being well before not just mobile services, but also any other form of telephony, our normal mode of communication was dependent upon letters delivered to each other via the estate ‘mail service’ (a messenger who would carry official and unofficial letters and the like between estates) our terrestrial alternative to pigeon mail. Received a letter one day mid-week from Himmat telling me that his wife Krishna was away on holiday in Jaipur and that since my wife was also away on a jaunt, would I like to drop in that evening for a drink. Never one to refuse a good offer, come the evening I headed off to Tara. It was one of those lovely Assam evenings when nature would routinely open all the sluice gates and send down enough rain to put the Niagara Falls to shame, all the while lighting up the sky with millions of volts of electricity and an equal amount of decibels of thunder. In short, just the sort of conditions which would have made Shakespeare rub his hands in glee and call on the three witches to make their appearance.

Drove into Tara around 2030 Hrs to find Himmat waiting for me in his ‘Jalli Kamra’, enjoying the lovely weather. Being almost par for the course, the thin spray of rain hanging over ones heads akin to a personal cloud accompanied by the occasional wisp of mist finding its way into the Jalli Kamra  was never taken cognisance of. Settling down, my first statement to Himmat was that I wanted an early evening since I had a very early start (when was it ever not an early start for us?) and needed to get my beauty sleep before facing the formidable Bahadur Singh (my boss) in the morning and to be well in time for my Kamjari. Almost knocked the socks off me when Himmat tells me that “we’ll have just one drink before khana” and then shouts “Jannu, saab ka aur mera drink lao”. In toddles his faithful Jaanu with two VERY large brandy snifters and two bottles of our favoured tipple, Beehive brandy. 

Quite obviously having been instructed in advance of what he was required to do when faced with this strange order, Jannu very nonchalantly unscrews the tops of the two bottles to break the seal and proceeds to pour the contents into the two snifters. To say I was aghast would be an understatement. My “Himmat, what the hell is this?” was met by an almost angelic smile and a “Well, it is only ONE drink”, following which statement Himmat decided to become stone deaf and took on the majestic appearance of Mount Rushmore! By 2200 Hrs, one small sip at a time I had managed to bring the level of the brandy down just below the rim. “Himmat, can we eat”, “Don’t be silly, we have to finish our one drink!” And then back to being Mount Rushmore.

2400 Hrs my “Himmat, I need to get back and am bloody hungry” was met by a glare which made me decide to shut my mouth for a mite longer. 0200 Hrs my next request for dinner met the same fate as did the one an hour later. Finally at 4 in the morning, in total exasperation I was left with no option but to say to Mr Stone Deaf that this was it and that I simply HAD to leave. And what does my host do, “Jannu, Saab is not finishing his drink so cover his glass and keep it in the fridge for him as he’ll be coming back tomorrow to finish it and have his dinner!”

Cold, very hungry and somewhat miserable Mr Khanna drives back to Dhoedaam. Got to my bungalow, wolfed down a packet of biscuits, changed into my shorts and dragged myself to my Kamjari office.

Oh yes, during the day Himmat received a letter from me by way of the terrestrial pigeon post thanking him for his hospitality and the “ONE DRINK”!

Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna

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