There are four main aspects to a bottle of potable alcohol: closed, open, the outside, and the inside. Of these, the last has two further, critical, sub-aspects: full/still not empty, and empty. Most bottles of booze are completely anonymous, their ‘bottleness’ totally irrelevant to proceedings save one requirement, that the damn thing doesn’t break before it’s been emptied. And then, even among empty bottles of alcohol there are hierarchies. Beer bottles, slimy with warmed condensation, would come at the bottom of the pile. Next would be wine bottles, a few standing out, each marked only by the label that reminds us of the amazing wine they once contained plus, perhaps, the momentous occasion and the company in which it was consumed. Hard liquor and liqueur bottles would be at the top of this topply pyramid, simply because they cost the most and (usually) take the longest to consume. Even among these heavy-hitters, very few bottles stand out in the hand, so to speak: there is the triangular feel of Glenfiddich and the generationally different one of Dimple, there is the saloonious ribbing of Southern Comfort, there are the fancy narrownesses of grappa and the sensuous wide bottoms of cognacs, but otherwise a daaru ki botull is usually a daaru ki botull.
One of the great exceptions that stands apart from this whole jostling, clinking mass is a bottle that thousands of us Indians can identify with our eyes closed. I don’t know which genius, whether some Dyer or Meakin or some nameless employee of one of their distilleries, came up with the bottle for Old Monk Rum. As with the Ambassador car, it should be possible to trace which original British or Caribbean mould was copied and tweaked to create one of the great iconic Indian product packagings of modern times. There is a special braille that OM worshippers can read blindly, anywhere in the world, at any time of day or night, at any stage of inebriation: finely carved on a squat, square, hollow brick of cheap glass is a tracery of texture, a cobweb of raised glass that’s as familiar and reassuring as the backs of our mothers’ elbows. Above this is a bottleneck, a miniature of a lover’s ripely curved calves. Finally, on top, is a nasty, often rusty, thorny ring-mess of the cap and seal than can only ever belong to a bottle of OM; this is the hurdle all true OM devotees must know how to cross before they are allowed into the kingdom of heavenly bliss. The makers have ‘improved’ it now—foolishly—but the one test we had in the ’80s, to see if a bottle of OM was genuine, was to see whether the cap of a fresh bottle opened with a crisp snap; if it did, the bottle was possibly fake; the real marker of an OM bottle was that the sealing ring would slide with the cap, frustrating unworthy newbies until an initiated veteran took a sharp edge and prised the cap and ring apart; this would invariably lead to some of the coveted brown potion leaking on to fingers and table in a correct and indispensable ablution to the Monk gods.