Social Interaction, Alcohol and Religion

Our eternal problem will always be the same; to know where the limit is, when to stop and how much good is good for oneself

It is said that the more people we move with, the more we fortify our immune system and the longer we can live. So after retirement one has valid excuses to make amends for all those social invitations that were previously ignored.

The idea of going to one of our Mauritian pubs never crossed my mind. The old generation has always associated these hotspot places with family neglect, misery, decadence, alcoholism, delirium tremens, jaundice and liver damage. So the tavern, the dispensing point, was looked down upon as a taboo

However, my friend G was on a visit to Mauritius after many years. To reciprocate for his wonderful hospitality some months back we had a few get-togethers at talk-of-the-town places, dinner at home, followed by an excursion to the near summit of Le Morne Mountain, in spite of our 65+ years. Then one good day, to celebrate those who have retired from active services, he sprung the surprise by inviting us to one of the Mauritian bars in Quatre Bornes. Being cornered, we condescended to oblige.

Crossing over

So on the said evening, I made my way to the rendezvous, while trying to keep a low profile, in keeping with a decades-old prejudice. One was not in a flamboyant mood to advertise one’s presence, but my friend G was too pleased to explore the unbeaten path, as a true tourist would, and was totally immune to possible adverse criticism. We finally selected a corner table far from inquisitive eyes. And the connoisseur in the matter ordered a ‘rougaille’ of Corne’s tripe with bread as an ‘entrée’ and a bottle of rum, true to the spirit of the occasion; but I stuck to my ginger ale as I had no intention to stir up some old gastric trouble.

Soon the party was rolling on; we chit-chatted and tucked into our next hors d’oeuvre — fried ‘Corne’. What a completely different scenario from our usual get-together. We did our best, but in vain, to capture and relive the atmosphere of bygone days ‘tavernes’, where the poor would gather to celebrate after a hard day’s work. My friends sipped their rum and were all praise for the fish snacks for which we had come specially. The man who discovered alcohol died centuries ago, but his spirit still lives on. As the evening progressed we discovered that other congeners present were ordering labeled whisky, something unheard of in olden times. Gone was the old image of unkempt, badly dressed patrons, with haggard, morose, tired and sad unshaven faces of the ‘taverne’. All present were decent people. And the surprise of all, even some of the opposite sex were also of the party on a nearby table! Were we in a bar or a restaurant?

I am not new to bars. In my childhood, in the 50s, my father had tried his hand at running one in Dr Reid Street, Beau Bassin; the only thing that still lingers in my memory is the large, flat, white oval porcelain plates in the show case. They were full of fish or octopus curry and vindaloo, with big pieces of half onions and slit green chilies embedded in spicy, mustard oily sauce. The aroma of those dishes was exhilarating. I always wondered why we were not treated with such feast at home. Little did I notice the people forming part of the clientele; but they were never a happy, jovial lot. They would have made excellent subjects to one of Van Gogh’s painting had he been present.

The Excesses

One can always wonder why do people consume alcohol. Is it just a vice? Is it to run away from oneself, one’s responsibilities and a life full of incomprehensible paradoxes, or to drown one’s sadness or failures? Or is it to forget the hard reality and to smooth out the roughness of this life?

Whereas educated people themselves have such a hard time to unravel the mystery of their own psyche, trying to understand their opposite partners or spouse, going through the gamut of so many conflicting feelings and fortunes, one can only wonder how would the less educated and less fortunate, poorer section of our society be dealing with their inner life. Can alcohol serve as an ultimate drug or magic elixir, as an escapism from the complexity of life and imposed social and religious restrictions? No wonder, alcoholism with all its curse is not far.

Those who ‘hate’ that spirit have found the antidote: religion. But here again there is that compulsion or obsession to look into one direction – to pray – lest one loses one’s concentration and gets sucked into the ‘evil temptation’.

However, there is that minority of people who is enjoying themselves by having the best of two worlds. They refuse to become slave to the new spirit; they have very little of it at parties, or they will be thinking of resveratrol in red wine – supposedly to dilate their coronaries. They take advantage of the pharmacological properties of the spirit: it abolishes some inhibitory pathways in the brain, thereby becoming just a social lubricant, removing timidity and enlivening the mind and tongue for greater social intercourse. They enjoy some temporary illusion of levitation whereby they leave the everyday three-dimensional world for a higher one. Suddenly the question of race, class and community disappears, and for some minutes they are face to face with another human being like themselves. They achieve in that instant what they would have liked to do perpetually, but which they fail miserably to attain because of their inflated ego. How we all would be happy to reach that stage without any drug or alcohol, – and feel so close to other human beings. Maybe our cerebral cortex is still too rigid with all sorts of beliefs and ideologies for such experiences.

Brave New World?

Since time immemorial we have been looking for a shortcut to the proverbial state of Nirvana; some meditate, some pray. Must we go on searching with a lucid, sober mind or should we take a shortcut and dope the mind now and then to catch a glimpse of that euphoria? If we have to eat healthily and supply our brain with the necessary raw materials to heighten its function, what prevents us from coaxing it better by supplying it with some extra synthetic, pharmacologically active chemical substances? That’s the debate going on in some extra modern circles – of the ‘brave new world’, specially as addiction is becoming a serious and inevitable social problem.

A good percentage of us are smoking ourselves to cancer, others are drinking and heading for cirrhosis of the liver, still some are on the brink of social and psychological disaster due to substance abuse; others are burning themselves out by being workaholic, while some are killing themselves to collect bank notes. Still others are inveterate Casanovas, while a good number are bloating themselves to obesity.

It seems that there will always be that percentage of the human race which will compulsively and obsessively be experimenting with excesses, and stimulate the maximum release of dopamine in the brain so as to derive the maximum of pleasure while the going is good.

Can we have a just solution to it? Excesses affect our brain’s function and anatomy adversely and to different degrees; some are socially and legally acceptable or tolerated, and some are not.

Unfortunately our eternal problem will always be the same; to know where the limit is, when to stop and how much good is good for oneself.

Dr Rajagopal Soondron

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