There is a time in everyone's life when they move from being adolescents, towards adulthood. Old Monk somehow marked that moment in every one's life. When you look back at life there are always those defining firsts. Your first cycle ride. Your first set of trousers. Your first haircut. Your first love. And so on. When it came to your first drink, for most Indians it was an Old Monk and very often an Old Monk with Coke. That is if you were born sometime before 1970, perhaps. In 1977, Coca-Cola was forced to leave the country. But Indians found another great mixer with Old Monk. Thums Up. I still know people who drink Old Monk today only with Thums Up. For fear that a Coke or Pepsi might adulterate the taste of their favourite rum.
Somehow Old Monk became so iconic, that as India quickly transformed itself into a whisky drinking country, Old Monk drinkers often looked down on their whisky drinking counterparts. Somehow drinking anything but Old Monk seemed to be a little... well, it seemed like a 'sissy' thing to do. And who could deny that Old Monk tasted so much better than any whisky India could produce. When Scotch became freely available after liberalisation, the real Old Monk loyalist drank rum in preference to Scotch to show the others at a party that they were real men. Old Monk somehow exemplified the Art of Manliness. In fact, for some reason, Old Monk became a symbol of masculinity that strangely didn't preclude the women. After all a woman who drank Old Monk also portrayed a sense of strength, endurance and toughness.
As time went along, I noticed two types of Old Monk drinkers. The ones who would have it with water and ice. And the ones who would have it with a cola. I might be imagining this, but I started typifying these drinkers. The ones who had it with water, were making a different statement altogether, both about their rum drinking habit and about themselves. They were saying that Old Monk must be had with water, because only then were you able to enjoy the real delicious taste of Old Monk. What they were saying about themselves was that they were real people. And I daresay they were also mildly suggesting, that the ones who had it with Coke were perhaps a little more feminine!
For some reason, Old Monk and rums in general have been associated with the sea. It was a common drink among sailors and if I may point out even among pirates! And rum almost has a mythical history. Blackbeard is supposed to have placated his crew with rum. Ernest Hemingway is supposed to have made his way into Havana and popularised rum cocktails like Daiquiri, Mojito and the Cuba Libre. And while the Caribbean, Cuba and Mexico all have a great history for distilling rum, and produce excellent rums, even the well-travelled Indian will always swear by his Old Monk as being incomparable and standing tall amongst all the rums in this world.
On January 6, 2018, Old Monk lost its creator and patron saint, Brigadier Kapil Mohan (Retd). A teetotaler himself, the Brigadier has gladdened the cockles of many an Indian heart ever since Old Monk was first produced in the Mohan Meakin breweries at Solan on December 19, 1954. But the legacy he has created will live on forever. And the good old Brigadier will be blessed a million times for the many happy, unforgettable moments he has created for many generations of Indians over the last sixty-three years.
(The author is an ad man, musician, cyclist and coffee aficionado, who doesn't hesitate to speak his mind)First Published : January 11, 2018