It is quite possible that remarkable things do happen when one imbibes alcohol, especially of the exotic kind. In My Talks with Dean Spanley, Lord Dunsany writes that the Hungarian Imperial Tokay wine is known to cause the drinker to go into a trance which brings forth visions of his past life. The Dean, who is otherwise a fine gentleman, finds himself remembering, and enacting, canine-like behaviour after two glasses of vintage Tokay which presumably suggests a previous life of lower birth. I haven’t been able to determine if there was any truth in Lord Dunsany’s tale as Hungarian Imperial Tokay wine is hard to come by for a man of modest means such as myself.
I have found myself drinking alcohol of mysterious provenance quite frequently in the dingy backrooms of liquor stores here deep in Southern India. I enter one store that I’ve grown fond of, and greet the man I call the Innkeeper. He does not understand, but recognizes me and takes me to my table. I ask for his finest wine, and he smiles, not understanding a word again, and places a grimy looking bottle down in front of me. I take a swig and wait. Nothing happens. The Innkeeper is amused. He has seen me do it everyday.
I remember being mystified with the food too, as I tried once to determine the species of meat served to me by checking the length of the thigh bone of the animal. It seemed to be a small four legged mammal. I wonder if the unfortunate animal wandered into the kitchens unknowing of its fate.
I measured dimensions one day of bones that suggested a human origin. My eyes widened as I looked at my plate. There was talk of a brawl that occurred the previous day. Not all the fighters survived it. Were all the bodies accounted for?
It was when I landed on the shores of Tuticorin that I discovered a place that was quite simply extraordinary. I asked the locals where I might procure myself a drink that would induce, I described to them in exaggerated gestures, the mythical effects of Hungarian Imperial Tokay wine on Man. At this point I had begun to lose hope in my quest and was pleasantly surprised to find a sailor who claimed to know of a place that might serve such a drink. It was like no other bar I would have ever seen though, he warned.
As I entered the place, I could see that the sailor was right. It was indeed like no bar that I had ever seen in my life. I found myself standing in a wide open space surrounded by the forest. It took me a while to locate the other patrons. They were seated on what looked like machans which were bigger than their traditional size. And purpose. These raised platforms weren’t built just for a hunter lying in wait for his prey. They had tables on them where the patrons were served their meal.
I stared in amazement. I quickly understood how this place worked. A keen eyed patron would notice something rustling in the bushes and indicate his desire to eat it. If the hunter happened to be at the table, he would get out of his chair and fall to the floor in the prone position and take aim. If the animal emerged out into the open, a shot would ring out and a while later, it would appear on the table. Cooked, of course.
Not everyone got their meal served this way though. The process of spotting an animal, shooting it and cooking it happened quite infrequently. Most patrons simply picked a meal from the regular menu. Eating meat so fresh that you could probably taste the fear in the animal was a rather costly affair.
I sat beside the hunter that day. He turned out to be a veteran of the Second World War. His unfortunate circumstances following the war reduced him to working as a hired killer of small animals. There were no man-eaters in this part of the country he said, wistfully. Killing them would bring him glory.
Did you ever shoot a man here, I asked him. It was a strange question to ask, but for some strange reason I expected him to answer in the positive. He was quiet for a moment. And then said yes. He did kill a man here. Men, actually. Accidentally and sometimes on purpose.
I could imagine drunk patrons wandering about even though they were warned to remain seated in their machans during hunting hours. And finding themselves in the line of fire as they emerged from a bush. But why were men killed on purpose, I asked.
Men do strange things under the influence of alcohol, he replied. I understood what he meant. They might fight with other men or try to force themselves upon women. A warning shot usually brought peace again. But was there something else they did, I asked. Something bizarre that he had never witnessed before. Perhaps a man remembering his previous life?
The hunter looked at me with a curious expression on his face. There was this drink, he couldn’t remember its name, which made men become strangely fascinated with rabbits. Rabbits, I asked, intrigued. He nodded. There were hundreds of rabbits in this part of the forest and somehow this drink awakened some primal desire in men to chase the little creatures around. It was later that he discovered that they weren’t running after the rabbits to scare them, but were following them instead.
Following rabbits, I asked, incredulous. He nodded again. And asked me if I had read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I had read it, many times in fact. Well, the men seemed to follow the rabbits and go somewhere, he said. And always narrated the most bizarre tales when they returned, though strangely sober.
What sort of bizarre tales, I asked. Did they meet the Mad Hatter and see the Cheshire Cat? He laughed. Nothing so fanciful, he replied, they merely saw animals which they believed were themselves in their past lives. One woman even saw an otter and described its feeding habits to me.
I could not contain my joy. I had finally found what I was looking for. The name of the drink was still unknown to me, the hunter said Tokay wine was not available here, so it had to be something else. I ordered a bottle of Army Rum and rolled up my sleeves. It seemed like a good place to begin.