No sooner had Bangalore’s headbangers resolved to up their Old Monk intake in 2018, on reading that sales of this legendary libation are dipping, than they had occasion to raise a glass. This was in fond memory of the late lamented Kapil Mohan, patron of this caramelly, cheap concoction. It famously keeps the Indian army on the move but also fuels another heavy-duty institution: the city’s metal music scene.
The taxman might show us the books as counter-evidence, but we dipped our toes into the raging, rum-soaked mosh-pit of the scene and came away reassured that Old Monk is doing just fine, thanks.
“Like flies to shit, we seemed to have found Old Monk,” says Ganesh Krishnaswamy, bass player for the two-decade-old Kryptos and singer of Bevar Sea. When he was in college, over a decade ago, “the decision was made for us because for under 30 bucks, you could get an Old Monk quarter, a Thums Up and a packet of khara chips. There were just-cheaper whiskeys but it grew on me, made sense financially and gave me a kick up the backside a lot quicker than the other liquors did.”
Rationality might have underscored Ganesh’s romance, but for Narayan Shrouthy, bassist for Inner Sanctum, it had a more rowdy beginning. “Along with a bunch of friends, I jumped the wall of my high school and popped into a dive bar. Old Monk was the only brand we’d heard of then. It went down smooth, and got us all properly sozzled. Later that night, I was bent over in my bathroom violently emptying out the entire contents of my stomach,” he guffaws. “But now, it is my drink of choice.” It’s affordable, of course, “but also, it doesn’t give hangovers.”
For Ganesh and Narayan, “drinking rum” has becoming shorthand for hanging out with bandmates and letting the night go as it may. “If it is a boy’s night out, it just means an Old Monk session,” Ganesh shrugs. For Bharad Ravi, the vocalist of Empyrean, it isn’t just about the fun; it is also fuel. “Our music is quite aggressive. For me, Old Monk is an enabler. I don’t think there is a single jam session, studio recording or live show that I’ve done that doesn’t involve Old Monk,” he admits. “Of all the alcohol I’ve drunk, I’ve come to see that it is really good for the throat, or at least, it does the least amount of damage. It never leaves your throat dried out,” he argues.
All That Monk Inside Ur Trunk
So, why does the accounting at the Excise Department say otherwise? It might have something to do with the higher sugar content in rum, hazards Ganesh. “We’re all in our late 30s now,” he says, sadly. “Sugar has become the new monster and more of us seem to be moving towards whiskey and gin.” Still, when he was thrown out of a bar just recently, it wasn’t because of single malt or Bombay Sapphire.
“Shit got complicated,” Ganesh tells us, when a polite Old Monk session at a bar turned rowdy, and the bar asked them to leave. “In protest, we left with our drinks in hand and sat in a public (yet discreet) place to finish them,” he says. “We were discovered by the cops, carted off to a police station and were released in a bit. While walking out, we strolled onto a Malayalam movie being shot at Garuda Mall and ended up having a cameo role as a band.”
“Every night with the boys and Old Monk has been epic,” he insists. “Most stories are not printable.”
As Bangalore’s metal boys might be on a boozy diet of Old Monk, their fan bases have fallen in line too. Former music journalist and photographer Darshan Manakkal thinks fondly back to the old days of ready-mixes. “Buy an Old Monk quarter and a pet bottle of Thums Up, drink some of the cola and pour in the rum.” Once in the gig, clutching your innocent soft drink, “sip generously and pass around. Rest assured, you would get more than your fair share since everyone had sneaked in a ready-mix.” Bharad steps up at this point to say that bands “obviously” don’t condone this old-standing tradition of getting your fix at a concert.
Darshan dismisses the notion that the business of Old Monk has suffered any dent, “and definitely not in Bangalore. It is still the best bang for your buck, and will always be.” Bless us, Brother.
This story was contributed by Joshua Muyiwa, a Bangalore-based poet and writer.
Photo credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal.
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