What kind of drinking dos and donts can you have for a liquid, which in its native Cyrillic is spelt Djlrf ?
1. Geography and Brand Names: To prove a lack of bias: some of the best vodkas around are non-Russian, and some of the worst were distilled in Russia. Rule of thumb: the farther north you go, the higher the quality (this rule does not apply in a lot of instances- e.g.- India's political class).
2. Purity and Mixing: Rule of Thumb (for all booze): You don't waste superior stuff in mixed drinks. Quality leads to purity. If it sounds like a Nazi or a Sangh Parivar slogan, so be it. Remember: Hitler was a teetotaler. He may have indulged in a bit of beer or wine, which do not count as alcohol in Europe, and we suspect he consumed them mostly for photo-ops. The man never struck us as an honest drinker. Unlike Stalin. With drinking, paradoxes abound. All our homegrown fascists are a case in point.
3. Glasses: While there are no specific prohibitions against drinking vodka out of soup bowls or espresso cups, certain rules of decor apply. The keyword, once again, is purity: a thick glass, hand-washed (no scented dish liquid, please). If you are Ivan from Smolensk and only want to drink from the dried skull of a Siberian Wolf , it's entirely your trip. All I can say is my grandaunt, Padmasini used to sip it out of her prize china tea set.
4. Ambience: All our advice in this category is relative, because after a few rounds you won't really care. But in general, the more intimate, the better. Unlike champagne, vodka requires no thespianic abilities. What it does require is a toast and a clinking of glasses. No amount of acoustics will make either one work in wide-open spaces. When you see Yeltsin raise his glass at a Kremlin function, this has nothing to do with drinking. This is just protocol. If you want to drink vodka comfortably, get closer. And make sure that all the accoutrements -- beer, food, TV remotes, encyclopedias, prophylactics (you never know) and, sports reference books (you will be arguing important issues) -- are close at hand. You don't want to have to hunt for these after a few rounds. While decorum is important, decor is not. Vodka drinkers are the world's least spoiled lot. Remember, there is no public place in Russia, from a children's playground to the Bolshoi Opera's KGB boxes, where gallons of vodka have not been consumed.
5. Temperature: The colder, the better. While vodka on the rocks is a sin against nature, warm vodka is a reminder that all is not well with the world. After the way the Sensex has been, you need any more reminders?
6. Toasts: Anything mildly abusive should do. Example- Sunil Sethi, my jigri yaar when I came out of my rehab last year no Behan*&%$@d gave me a rupee for my bottle, but you my best buddy did, so here's to you and have a good time with the nurse when you are sent back.
7. Accompanying Elements: (a.k.a. "chasers") This is different from mixers. Strict division of tastes. A chaser, be it liquid (beer) or solid (artichoke hearts) is essentially an escort. A Beauty without which the Beast is incomplete -- and vice versa. We will not be drawn into an argument about virtues of various chasers. Over centuries, friendships have suffered, houses have fallen, whole social layers have been eradicated -- all because some curmudgeon insisted on honoring his own recipe for marinated cabbage or tandoori chicken above all others. We are tolerant. We respect all chasers. While keeping in mind that some are more equal than others. You can take the high road: caviar, smoked salmon, Veal Apraksin. Or you can take the low road: we've known people drinking vodka with Usal Pao bought from a kiosk near the Jogeshwari flyover.
8. Drinking: The table is set. Endure the toast the way you would endure the last session of a weeklong sales conference (particularly if you were the only one who didn't make his/her numbers). Click glasses with as many guests as you can without spilling. Bend the elbow. Assume an expression of a Tolstoy character pondering life and death, honor or book contract. Or you can also try to look like A. Roy protesting Supreme Court verdicts (a hard thing to ask of anyone, I know).
1. Inhale deeply and hold in your breath.
2. Remember: one gulp is all it takes.
3. Throw back your head and throw in the fluid. Now that you have exhaled and are happily munching the pakoras-- wasn't it good? Pour the next round.