AT THE risk of giving away too much about the book too early into the review, let me just say House Spirit: Drinking in India, edited by Palash Krishna Mehrotra, is quite a breezy, unputdownable read. It’s that kind of flip-through book that leaves your mind pleasantly refreshed and thoughtfully grounded. Poignant pieces by some very recognisable names in the literary world like Indrajit Hazra, Zac O’Yeah, Amit Chaudhuri, etc, make this book a fun yet informative read.
House Spirit is divided into two sections, from the poetic to the prosaic, and the descriptive (Part 1: Stories & Poems) to the anecdotal (Part 2: Essays). In each section, writers have been invited to put forth their thoughts on the subject—alcohol in the personal or Indian context—and the combined result is greater than the sum of its parts. The book manages to weave a narrative that is brief and yet conveys a panoramic passage. It is also punctuated with lovely quotes on our favourite past-time.
My favourite ones are the ones observing the presence of alcohol in Indian cinema by Sidharth Bhatia and one that traces a person’s jaunt through Kerala in search of good toddy by Samanth Subramaniam. Another heartwarming prose is about Calcutta, the veritable City of Joy, by Sumanta Bannerjee, who gives us insight into the British and the bhadralok, who binged on the booze.
The essays in House Spirit may be connected in theme, but each piece stands out as a unique independent short story. Therefore, it doesn’t need the ‘sit-down-and-finish’ type of dedication, making the book a perfect read for that long weekend away or for bus commutes.
I have been through the book almost twice in the past few days and have skipped stories in my random manner of reading, but I am sure when I find a hitherto unread piece, it will be a delightful discovery. At a time when there seems to be too much governance of things and when I live in constant fear of my bar and larder being raided, this book is a delightful departure from forced mores and moralities. This little volume, like rain on dry earth, will seep in and fill up curiosities that you didn’t know existed. But it doesn’t preach, it merely relays. And sometimes, that is the best thing a book can do.
House Spirit: Drinking in India
Edited by Palash Krishna Mehrotra
The writer is a sommelier