Link to my original post in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal:
HUMOUR IN UNIFORM
RUM QUOTA AND THE “TEETOTALLER ALCOHOLIC”
A Rum Tale
Delightful Memories of my Halcyon Navy Days
TEETOTALLER ALCOHOLIC – a Rum Tale by Vikram Karve
Long back – around 38 years ago – sometime in the late 1970’s – we were young officers just introduced to the pleasures of alcohol during our specialisation course.
We youngsters thoroughly enjoyed our newly found freedom by “topping up to the hilt” in the bar every evening.
Though it was supposed to be a Technical Training Establishment – the atmosphere was more “OG” than Gunnery School.
And to make matters worse – we were located in a desolate place in the back of beyond.
Apart from playing sports – the only recreation for us bachelors was drinking alcohol.
Also – in order to sleep soundly in the bedbug infested cabins – one had to imbibe a reasonable amount of alcohol every evening.
So – every evening we would assemble in the wardroom bar – and “top-up” till the last sitting for dinner was announced.
In order to curb our excesses – the PMC set a daily limit of 3 large pegs of Rum for each individual officer.
Well – during those days – we drank only large pegs – and 3 large pegs total about 180 ml of hard liquor – less than a quarter of a bottle of rum – which has almost 13 large pegs.
Now – for tough young naval officers like us in their early 20’s – only 3 large pegs of rum were just too little – especially for an ardent drinker like me.
So I devised a simple strategy.
I caught hold of my course-mate “X” who was a strict teetotaller
Of course – like most teetotallers in uniform – my friend “X” was quite a money-minded “businessman in uniform” too.
I made him a proposition: “If you let me have your rum quota – I will pay your entire wine bill – including whatever soft drinks and snacks you have.”
“You will pay my entire bar bill?” “X” asked me, quite unbelieving.
“Yes,” I said to “X”, “ See – your daily 3 peg “rum quota” is going waste since you are a teetotaller. If you give me your daily rum quota – I will pay your entire bar bill every month.”
“X” readily agreed.
In fact – I am sure that in his heart he jumped with joy.
So – we instructed the bar steward accordingly.
Every evening – the steward would put my first 3 large pegs of rum in X’s bar book.
Whatever subsequent pegs I drank beyond the first 3 pegs – would be entered in my bar book.
Yes – those days – in Navy Wardrooms – we had bar books which we had to sign at the end of the evening – or by next morning.
So every evening as I sat down to drink – my first 3 large pegs of rum would be written in X’s bar book.
In case I drank a fourth or fifth or sixth peg of rum – the steward would write them in my own bar book.
I seldom drank more than 6 large pegs – except on rare occasions like parties – but on such occasions of unrestricted drinking – booze was on the house – and was not subject to any “quota”.
So – thanks to X – every evening – I would enjoy a generous amount of booze – which raised my spirits – so my morale was high and I was quite happy.
“X” was delighted with this arrangement.
“X” sat down with us in the evenings – downing soft drink after soft drink – eating plenty of “small eats” – knowing that I was paying for all his soft drinks and eats too – and calculating the cost in his mind – estimating how much money he was saving – since I was paying his entire bar bill.
I am sure that in his mind he was wondering what a sucker I was.
A couple of months passed happily.
One morning – the PMC suddenly entered the training hall – and he thundered, “Who the bloody hell is “X”…?”
The PMC shouted X’s name – and he looked around the hall.
“X” meekly stood up.
The PMC strode up to “X” – and he brandished X’s bar book menacingly – and the PMC shouted at “X”: “Do you want to become a bloody alcoholic? You have been religiously drinking 3 large pegs of rum every day for the last two months. I am stopping your booze. No more drinking. You better sober up.”
And then, as suddenly as he had come – the PMC stormed out of the hall – rendering a hapless “X” dumbstruck and speechless.
Poor “X” – his reputation as a “drinker” spread pretty fast.
At parties – when “X” had his usual glass of cola in his hand – the PMC would suspect that X’s soft drink was was spiked with rum.
So “X” started drinking lime juice – but even then – the PMC was sure it was spiked with Gin or Vodka.
The PMC kept telling the Training Officer that he suspected that “X” was still drinking heavily.
Accordingly – the Training Officer kept warning “X” to stop drinking.
Meanwhile – I had found other sources to replenish my “thirst” for alcohol – like picking up a few rum bottles from married officers.
The biggest joke was that the PMC thought that “X” was taking rum bottles from married officers – and “X” was warned once more by the Training Officer to abstain from drinking.
Soon his reputation as an “alcoholic” was growing.
“X” feared that his appraisal report (OLQ Marks) would be ruined with a remark about his “alcohol dependence” – and he would be branded as an “alcoholic” throughout his naval career.
So – one day – “X” told the Training Officer the whole story.
The Training Officer told the PMC all about it.
And soon – I found myself being marched up to the PMC.
The PMC had two bar books in his hand – X’s Bar Book and My Bar Book.
He was turning page after page.
“Is it true?” the PMC asked me, “You seem to drinking 4 to 5 large pegs of Rum every evening. Sometimes even 6 pegs of Rum.”
“Yes, Sir,” I meekly said – trembling inside – expecting to be logged – or be severely admonished by the PMC who was also the XO.
I surely anticipated that my booze was going to be stopped – so I was thinking in my mind what new arrangements I needed to make to obtain my supply of rum – maybe my friends in the Army or Air Force may help me out.
The PMC held up the bar book of “X” and he asked me: “And what about this officer – your friend “X” – is he telling the truth that he is a teetotaller – or is he also a bloody alcoholic like you?”
“Sir – he is an alcoholic teetotaller,” I blurted out.
“What? Alcoholic teetotaller? Bloody Hell! This is the first time I am hearing this crazy oxymoron,” the PMC looked at me curiously.
“Sir – I meant that “X” is an teetotaller alcoholic,” I mumbled sheepishly.
Suddenly – the PMC burst out laughing and said, “Come over to my house for a drink this evening. You seem to be an interesting chap.”
Maybe – I reminded him of his youthful days.
I did – that is what he told me after a few drinks – and I could see that the PMC really enjoyed his liquor.
In the evening – as we imbibed peg after peg of the best rum – the PMC – an old sea-dog – was overcome by the Auld Lang Syne Complex – so he harked back to his halcyon navy days – and he excitedly told me about his glorious drinking escapades.
Cheers – That calls for a drink…!
I hope my good friend the “alcoholic teetotaller” aka “teetotaller alcoholic” is reads this – and has a good laugh.
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