On the very first day of my posting in a government department, I got introduced to Mr Varma, the only senior colleague in my branch. He readily took charge of me like an elder. I too acquiesced to his tutelage because I was ignorant about everything, including the little town where I was posted. In a sense, I was an uncouth village lad, straight out of college. I abhorred smoking and drinking.
‘What kind of a field officer will you make? This is a tough job. You should be acquainted with these stress-busters, otherwise you will have to fold your tent and go home,’ he warned. I was petrified with the scenario he presented before me on the first day of my joining! Yet, I was impressed with his demeanour, his impeccable dress sense, the way he puffed the cigarette, like actor Dev Anand. ‘Come for dinner with me at 7 pm. You need a brief.’ I swallowed the jibe, but was happy at the dinner invitation.
When I arrived, there were three of them sitting across a table in a small cubicle of a hotel. I was asked to occupy the fourth seat. Behind me was an open bay window, on which a vase adorned a fern plant that swayed in the soft breeze. A bottle of liquor, four glasses and a jug of water sat on the table.
Mr Varma introduced me to his friends and asked one of them to serve us all. ‘Please, not for me!” I pleaded. An enraged Mr Varma gestured to his other friend, ‘Prashar, hold his hands, Parmar will drain the stuff in his throat. He is not to remain a meek dud in the department!’
As they got up, I shrieked, ‘Please stop, I will do as told! But I will take only one small.’ They clapped and agreed. ‘Okay, the elixir will work in its own way.’ I lifted the glass, clinked with theirs and then touched the rim to my lips, pretending to take a sip. I had been a ragging-hardened college student. Assured of my obedience, the trio got busy in drinking and discussing mundane topics. In a flash, I got an idea. Stealing a glance, I emptied the glass in the pot on the window and silently heaved a sigh of relief, continuing the act of sipping for the next half an hour. ‘I am feeling dizzy,’ I moaned, clamping my head with both hands. They exchanged glances and smiled. ‘The stuff is working fine with the kid.’ They all laughed.
After a long wait, dinner finally arrived. I was so hungry that I literally pounced on the food, caring little for the scant table manners that I had learnt. ‘Look, the hungry wolf is devouring greedily,’ Parmar quipped. They laughed again.
But I had the last laugh. The dumb bumpkin had taken them for a ride. My forced initiation to Bacchus had failed.
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