It was a balmy summer evening, and I sat in the balcony reminiscing about a time before we corrupted ourselves, when it was okay if nothing made sense. The memories got thinner and thinner as I dug deeper into my lost childhood, but there was this one particular memory that stood out.
I was about 8 years old. During the school recess, a bunch of us sneaked into the grounds with a stolen matchbox and took turns lighting a match and staring hypnotized into the flame. This was by far the most dangerous act we had done in our young lives, and we kept throwing surreptitious glances to make sure no grownup was around.
And then one girl in the group suddenly did something we had never seen before. She flicked a match, brought it close to her lips, and cupping her hands, pretended to light a cigarette and take a drag. Then she looked up at our dumbfounded faces, and burst out laughing. We fell silent, unsure of how to react. Heck, most of us (me included), had never even seen a cigarette, having been raised in completely conservative & protected environments. And then there she was, the new girl in our midst, just back from the Middle East, and already basking in our new found admiration.
After recess, I sat next to her and quizzed where she had learned to do that. She coolly replied that her mother and father were used to entertaining guests with drinks and smokes while she was supposed to be fast asleep inside.
“Drinks”? I remember asking her. “Like coffee or juice?”
I was so naive back then. Drinks were hot or cold, depending upon the season, and for us kids, even coffee or milkshake was a real treat.
“No”, she replied laughing. “You know, like beer?”
“Beer?” I stared at her blankly. I had never even heard the word, and being an avid reader, I had a high regard for my own sparse vocabulary back then.
“Yes. They drink it and then start acting crazy?” She helpfully explained.
I don’t remember anything further of this incident, and my knowledge on the subject stayed limited until I became of barely legal drinking age, after which I learnt rather too quickly and too much. I don’t know whether it was the feeling of stupid incomprehension, or because it was the first time I had heard of ‘the drink that makes people act crazy’, but this memory has stayed in my mind clearer than other memories of school.