The octogenarian was called Maash (the local lingo for Master) by everybody because all his life he had taught in the primary school. Except for the two years he was in jail for participating in the freedom struggle. Always clad in spotless white starched khadi juba (kurta) and mundu (dhoti) with broad black border, Menon Maash was a true Gandhian. In the statewide the struggle for prohibition (of liquor) led by stalwarts like A P Udayabhanu, M P Manmathan and I K Kumaran, the activities in the village were spearheaded by Menon Maash.
When young Unni sought his daughter Malati’s hand, the joy that Maash experienced knew no bounds. He had known Unni as a newborn and ever since. He was hard-working and was the first in the village to go to a college. After post-graduation, he had landed a coveted job in a multinational company. That he was well-mannered and educated, two values Maash cherished, was enough for Maash. That Unni was well-employed was the icing on the cake. He married his daughter to Unni at a simple ceremony in the local temple.
What Maash did not know is that Unni had acquired taste for an occasional drink, thanks to his exposure to corporate life in metros. During his first visit to his daughter’s new house, Maash was scandalized when he set his eyes on the impressive array of bottles of various shapes and sizes kept in a well-lit cabinet in the drawing room.
Seeing the shocked look on her father’s face, Malati explained to him that social graces in the corporate circles demanded that they have a well-stocked bar and offer a drink to colleagues, business assoiates and friends when they dropped in.
‘Does that mean Unni drinks too?’
He does have a drink or two at parties and in weekends. Malati’s reply turned the puzzlement on Menon’s face into a frown of disapproval. Nevertheless, he had to lump it: Unni was the husband of his only daughter. You have to change with the times, he reconciled himself to the new mores.
When Malati and Unni came home on a short vacation, the first after their marriage, the martinet that Maash was had mellowed and had become more permissive.
He arranged with his wife to give the grand-nephews and grand-nieces an early lunch and send them out to play. A little before their own lunch that afternoon, Maash stealthily closed all the windows so that passers-by would not be able to see what was going on in the house. He placed a glass tumbler and a jug of water on the table.
Thereafter, he called Unni and told him in hushed tones, ‘I’ve kept something special for you.’
Though somewhat intrigued by this behavior, Unni followed his father-in-law to the room. Menon Maash took the bunch of keys that had been tied to the corner of his khadi mundu, chose the right key and proceeded to open the wooden almirah.
Suddenly, he remembered something and took a black metallic object from the left pocket of is juba and placed it next to the tumbler. Unni looked at it. A wrought iron bottle-opener. (The meticulous man that Maash was, had borrowed the gadget from Kumaran, who made a living by selling soda-lemonade-orange-crush along with groundnut and sweets and song-book during the intermission in the movie hall nearby.)
Opening the almirah, he continued, ‘This is something I have never touched in my life. But you are Malati’s husband, and as a father-in-law, it is my responsibility to entertain you.’
He extracted a parcel from the top shelf and unwrapped the newspaper packing. A bottle of beer. Naturally at room temperature.
Maash said, ‘Unni, I am doing something which is against the principle I have lived by.’ He then opened the bottle, poured no more tham fifty millilitres of the golden liquid into the tumbler, topped it up with water and offered it to Unni.
Maash then placed he crown cap on the bottle, pressed it hard so that it closed the bottle well, wrapped it in the newspaper and put it away in the almirah, telling Unni, ‘I may forget, but do not hesitate to remind me when you come for the Onam holidays. You can have some of it then.’
As Unni gulped the drink that his father-in-law offered, he wondered how the 'Onam drink' would taste.