By Rafique Ali
How do you define Bar or a Tavern (Maikhana)? This is an interesting question, isn’t it, especially when you have a unipolar and simplistic view of every aspect of life. Yes, I am talking to you guys from my home country Pakistan.
About, four years ago I was driving home from work and was listening to NPR (National Public Radio). NPR is an intellectually educating and A-Political (ie neutral) radio station. They were running an interview with an author named Rosie Schaap, and her book ‘Drinking with Men – A Memoir’; very interesting interview. Intrigued and curious, so I purchased the book.
Before talking about the book, let’s go back to the golden era of Pakistani cinema of 50-70s. The industry produced legendary heroes, heroines, and villains; Aslam Pervaiz was one impressionable villain of that era. He used to say a scripted line (that was repeated in many movies), which was ‘I am going to the club’ (Mein Club Jaa Rahaa Hoon). This line implied he will go to a place with loud music, dancing, and alcohol. After that period, we suffered a long night of prohibition, to the extent of not even filming drinking scenes in movies or television. Fast forward 1990-2010, the brain drain was happening as a huge number of professionals, businessmen and whoever got a chance left the country; migrated to US, Canada or Europe.
These migrants, even after spending decades in western societies can’t get out from the cocoon of halal restaurants. This paranoia limited their exposures to mainstream restaurants having a full bar. Ignorant of fact, that these restaurants still carry many other choices; delicious, non-meat and halal.
Pakistani migrants have two impressions of bar/tavern, the first impression is of Aslam Perviaz’s club era in the minds of an older generation. And, younger immigrants’ perception of a bar is a strip club. Loud music and dancing, absolutely wrong, there is no truth in it.
Today, we will briefly talk about the ambiance of bar or tavern with reference to Rosie Schaap’s book and her experience. Rosie’s book described a bar is a Town Hall, a Temple or a Church – where patrons go with their guard down to relax, to talk about anything or everything. A place where you have no fear of being judged, it’s a community to listen to stories, tell the stories, make up new stories and share the stories.
Most neighborhood bars are like our tea stall of the mohalla or a pan ki dukan in Karachi. Just like your pan waala knows what type of paan you like, the neighborhood bartender knows your choice of drink; which they pour as soon you walk in. And, just like a Chai ka Khoka or Paan ki Dukan, the bars are more or less known as a man’s world. How did Rosie Schaap, a woman fit into drinking places, from a young age of 15, as an underage? As her age progressed, she did hang out at bars spread from west coast Los Angles to East Coast New England, New York and even across the Pacific in Dublin, UK. Her journey let her meet poets, philosophers, writers, businessmen, professionals, factory workers, motorcycle gang members, losers, and bull-shitters. Contrary to general perception, even from western myth, she found safety and refuge in the bar. The time she spent on both sides of the bar counter, as a drinker and as a bartender, involved hundreds of conversations with patrons, mostly men but with fewer women too. These conversations help her mature and understand life which the world outside the bar would never be able to comprehend. This is her journey in the world of booze.
And the conversation will continue….
Writer can be contacted or followed on twitter at @GoToMtns