Taking the holistic view of a really old habit that just won’t quit

The great leap upward: from the depths of a lowbrow dive to the heights of a high priest’s table 

WHAT first took wing as a poor man’s home treat soared, in tandem with the art and science of alcohol, whose concoction bestrides both worlds, into a status symbol at high-end salons and suchlike.

It got so that the type of liquor one took stamped one’s class.  Such a boozely-based — to coin a phrase — caste system still exists.

At the foot of this social ladder swarm the plebs, who quaff what they can afford in abodes that, for this reason, aren’t so home sweet home; or in dumps little more than holes in the wall.

Atop the heap, ensconced in exclusive clubs and bars sit the favoured few; these VIP types revel in vintage port, champagne, cognac and single malt whiskey.

To lay claim to its own niche, the priestly class, in a fait accompli, got into the act early in the game.  Which is why, one will find, if one cares to look, through the annals of history, the key role alcohol played in the sacred rituals of so many spiritual stripes.

As a case in point, take shamans, witch doctors, clairvoyants and the rest of that occult tribe, then and now.  They were and still are plied with spirits to get them in the mood, the spirit of things, as it were, so as to set the scene for a spell of mesmerism.

Then there’s the de rigueur rice wine, for symbolic use and not to be imbibed, in the rites of Mahayana Buddhism, be it of the high Himalayas now or the Middle Kingdom of yore, as too in the old Tao practices of China and Shinto rites of Japan, not to mention Bon.

Even in the post-modern West, one key ingredient of a Roman Catholic ritual, known as mass, is red wine that’s transubstantiated, as per dogma, into the blood of Christ.

At births and deaths, and all high-points between, it takes the (unholy) spirit to move the occasion and enliven proceedings, even at a wake.  Small wonder then the clear bias, double standard some might say, in the popular stance on alcohol, in contrast to the conventional line on tobacco & etc.

You might say the booze in blood is what makes it thicker than water.

And this pi nexus is not restricted to rites alone.  The monks of medieval Europe were dab hands at brewing ale and wine.  After all, monastic orders owned much of the prime farmland and orchards back then, and excess produce thereof to turn into alcoholic beverages.  Dom Perignon, for one, was a friar, who made the granddaddy of all champagnes, and in whose name the prime product is still sold.


The other side of the coin in the realm of alcohol reveals its dark underbelly

ALCOHOL, per se, will not harm health if consumed within set limits.  On this, the entire stakeholder spectrum, from barfly to connoisseur, one and all are agreed that, when taken in moderation, it may yet be salubrious.

Alas, disciplined drinking has to be an oxymoron, as it seems so hard to do.  Control is nigh impossible; odds of going over the top, once one gets going, are high as a kite.

This intemperate bent of ours is at least as old as the infamous Roman orgy, during which tipsy guests would swill to their fill; then put fingers down throats to throw up and vacate guts; all for the sake of seconds.  This dissolute cycle went on and on till dawn: swig and spew, then swig again; these then high-class goings-on may provide the etymological roots of the ‘ad nauseam’ phrase.

Over-the-top downing of this kinda liquid diet, now known as binge drinking, is the bane of tipplers and, hence, the law the world over.

Such abuse of any substance, above all alcohol, as anyone and their favourite aunt would tell you, spawns a host of ill effects.  To bring some order into that chaos and a modicum of common sense to this breakdown, let’s class them as personal, social and national issues.

As far as one’s good self goes, problems of alcohol have all to do with health and happiness.

In the context of community, the malaise infects the very soul of society, the family.

On a nationwide scale, the evils stem primarily from reduced output by the workforce and the harm thus done to the economy.

Traffic accidents send shock waves to all concerned.

The multifarious ill effects of alcohol on an imbiber’s body and, brother, does it show!

THERE’S no part of our human system that the liquid tentacles of alcohol do not touch and thence taint.  When one drinks, liquor gets into the bloodstream and goes on to debilitate the whole body.  In the long run, which is pretty short-term, given the track record, one’s wellbeing will be up for grabs.

Three syndromes spring from over-indulgence that dent one’s aspect, organs and conduct.

W.r.to looks, symptoms shown include shifty eyes, a red nose, skinny skeleton, slurred speech, major mouth problems, and malnutrition.

The body blows, so to speak, hit the pancreas, kidney (viz. the never-ending yen to whizz or weak bladder condition), liver (typically the first to go), brain (shrinking frontal lobes, to be exact), dickey heart, limp muscles, sore throat and lungs (nasty cough, that), not to speak of the agony gout brings to joints.

And last but not least, behaviour, where we have a glut of signs, among which are diabetic heralds, lack of coordination, frequent blackouts, dependence (but, of course), constant fatigue, infertility (bummer!), strange sensations (alias delirium tremens), hallucinations (aka the Pink Elephant figment of the imagination), sexual dysfunction (ouch! not so macho, that), and birth defects.

To be continued

Next Week: Getting down and dirty with the nitty-gritty of an all-round killer vice

Contributed by 

John Michael Chiramal,