Will India ever get a genuine wine culture? This is the 64-dolour question often asked, forlornly, by oenophiles.
And the short answer to that is that it all depends on Auntie Kutti. Wine faces a lot of challenges in India, including a labyrinth of excise laws that make Hampton Court’s famous maze look like a cakewalk by comparison. But perhaps the most formidable adversary wine faces is in the redoubtable form of Auntie Kutti.
I first encountered this daunting entity some 20- odd years ago in the depths of darkest Haryana where I had ventured to an ‘English Wine and Beer Shop’ in search of Bosca (pronounced Bose-ka, the only wine available in India at the time).
As I was waiting for my bottle of Bosca, a Jat the size of Greater Chandigarh shouldered me aside and asked the shopkeeper about Auntie Kutti whom I presumed to be a matron of mature years who might have suffered a bout of ill health thereby soliciting enquiries about her wellbeing. But Auntie Kutti turned out to be not a lady but a libation in the form of a bottle of Antiquity, a made-in-India self-styled whisky.
Wine faces a lot of challenges in India, including a labyrinth of excise laws that make Hampton Court’s famous maze look like a cakewalk by comparison
Having secured his Auntie Kutti, the Jat surveyed my bottle of Bosca. “Kick-shick hota hai?” he enquired. When I admitted that my purchase hadn’t much in the way of the kick-shick department, my fellow customer waved a hand of airy dismissal and lumbered off hugging his Auntie Kutti to his chest. For the great majority of north Indian males of a certain vintage, the potability of any alcoholic beverage still depends on its ‘kick-shick’ factor.
The unreconstituted nephew — so to speak — of Auntie Kutti views an unopened bottle of the potation of his choice as a liquid gauntlet, a personal challenge to him regarding his capacity to, if not drain it in its entirety, at least lower the level of its contents substantially, and in inverse proportion to the raised eyebrows of wonderment and admiration of his drinking companions.
If he is a guest, his host dare not attempt — by hint of word or gesture — to restrain him from the Herculian task the guest has taken upon himself to accomplish, for fear that he, the host, will then be deemed to be a penny-pinching, peg-counting kunjoos who in his miserly person represents a travesty of the much-vaunted, open-handed hospitality that India and Indians are famed for.
In short, a national disgrace.
The result is that dinner get-togethers only too often become somnambulistic rituals — the pleas of the hostess that the laid-out food is congealing into an indeterminate protozoic glob on the dining table falling on the selectively deaf ears of males determined to prove that they can imbibe an Auntie Kutti avatar in copious quantities — punctuated by the gentle snores of the guest who has succumbed to the charms of malt-induced Morpheus with his head pillowed on a half-eaten helping of biryani.
Until a viable strategy can be devised to counter the dominance that latter-day Auntie Kuttis exercise over Indian maledom an indigenous wine culture will remain a plaintive whine culture, seen through a glass, darkly.