Monday, August 01, 2011

On the need for good scotch

Tonight I miss my father most, and his collection of scotch.

You're lucky if you live far away from home and on the night before one of your many transatlantic journeys, you get to speak to your father and say--"I'd like to keep that bottle of Caol Ila." You're luckier still if he looks at you, nods, and helps you roll it into two scarves and one college sweatshirt.

No more is said, but there's a lifetime of words communicated in that simple act of a bottle being passed from father to daughter.

One glass baton filled with pale gold. Always poured into lead crystal, over two cubes of ice. It's my father saying- here, take. Your next few years will be some fantastic mixed with guttural lows. You will embarrass yourself. You will say the wrong thing and miss opportunities. You will get robbed. You will choose the wrong people, the wrong situation, the wrong underwear for the wrong job interview. There is no fairy godmother, no charm to place under your pillow at night. Your mother will be upset, and there will a birthday, maybe several, when she will not call.

He never had what I have now. Never had, at the age of twenty-six, the luxury of sitting on a quiet summer night out on a dark balcony, sipping his parent's twelve year old single malt out of a scotch glass cut in Czechoslovakia.

My father is a great man, and a self-made one. Everything he is now, he chose to be-- Picking and choosing from observations and conversations. His longest running teachings are as follows: King makers are more important than kings. Sometimes you have to push, sometimes you have to pull. Carry people with you. Sip your scotch. Respect is earned the longer you make a bottle last.

My father never had the patience to type luxury of typing out his thoughts either. Has a lovely block script he uses in all official letters and forms though. But he depends on oral tradition when it comes to my brother and I, and though I've stopped faking exams to get out of these phone conversations with my father, they still play a poor second fiddle to actually sitting and talking with him.

I delete forwards from him everyday. He's in the smallest of G+ circles, and used to leave comments on my facebook pictures when I was still on there, but I miss experiencing conversation with him so goddamn much. I imagine the talks we'd have in person now, him a little more mellow, me just a little older. I recall all his ticks, all his mannerisms: the way he starts to cough if he gets into a really hearty, good laugh. The way he closes his eyes if he's listening to Floyd, Elvis or Zeppelin. The way I can always tell when he's too busy planning a response to listen to me. The way he reads my sins without hearing a single confession, and humbles me with his companionable silence instead of calling me out.

He's no saint, my father. He picked up cheap luggage from a relative who bought them at Moore Market in Madras for my first flight into the US post 9/11, despite my protests. He reacted badly to every boyfriend I've ever told them about. He insists women cannot have successful families and careers, and once advised me to become a dentist because it meant good money. But he's my old man. The one who taught me how to hustle. Close to seven years have passed since I last lived at home, and time seems to be passing faster than ever before.

It's incredibly presumptuous, and maybe a little conceited to speak of mortality where I am right now. I've been relatively lucky in death. The ones I have lost have come back to me some other way. I've no debilitating drug habit, or illness. I don't drive. I'm on the wrong end of my mid-twenties, and I have yet to do my Big Thing. My parents are getting older, but then again whose aren't?

I miss him everyday. A two year whimsical study scholarship has turned into too long. I miss his smell, that father smell, Old Spice and sweat and on some evenings, good whiskey. I miss the sound his chappals make. The way he ties his lungi effortlessly. The way he cools his tea.
I miss my mother too, but my mother does not drink. This changes things, slightly.

These things this scotch brings up.
Two doubles are enough.
Salt doesn't hurt an Islay whiskey. The current distillery, built between 1972 and 1974 in the same location as the original, overlooks the sea.
I'll need a new bottle by the year's end, at which time
I think I'll go home.

This piece was the prototype of *this* piece, which was published by Bluestem Magazine for their September 2011 Quarterly. It's much, much better. Trust me.