Hic! A drop too much

Hic! A drop too much

humour

Hic! A drop too much
The construction behemoth that entertained my services as a young man way back in the ‘60s gave me an opportunity to work under a Britisher and a Scotsman. While the former who resembled an Oliver Hardy in girth had a puckish sense of humour, the latter, living up to the expectations of ethnic humour, was a tightfisted Scot with a grip on finance that was tighter than a bench vice. The word ‘splurge’ was not close to his heart — in fact, not found in his lexicon. He frowned with unabated annoyance at the small slips kept on his green-baize table in the mornings that required his scrawled initial for approval for the cashier to part with cash. While the paper cutter he used reportedly had been thrown away by Robert Clive with disgust, the stubby pencil he wrote with was long past its written down value.

Cellphones, faxes or telexes were unheard of then. The Alexander Graham Bell’s instrument that was used cost the earth for long-distance audio services. My boss, therefore, preferred prepaid telegrams that gave the option to condense the text to save money.

Trunk calls were post-paid and so had the potentiality to shock when the monthly bills arrived. With this in mind, he edited my telegraph texts — no doubt with his stubby pencil — furiously slashing redundant words. A person who enjoyed his nightly cap of one chota peg of scotch and water (no, not fizzy soda, as it cost extra) he would mutter, “A drop too much here,” while cutting a superfluous word  from my drafts.

During a winter evening, a lanky London acquaintance of his called Lake was passing through Madras on his way to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Mr Lake, as is his wont, wanted to lubricate his throat during his overnight stopover.

My boss had to leave for Bezwada (now Vijayawada) to attend to an urgent tender negotiation and so entrusted the Londoner grudgingly to me with instructions that I contact his photo-journalist friend — who wrote interestingly about anything from dinosaurs to devadasis — to arrange for a spot of his favourite tipple. I made the arrangements of depositing Mr Lake at the Gymkhana club where the two were to meet for a drink, and withdrew.

When I went to pick up Mr Lake at around 10 in the night to drop him off at his hotel where he had pitched his tent, the man was not blotto, but nearly so. My instruction was to dispatch a cryptic telegram to Bezwada — using not more than five words to my boss saying that things had gone off pretty well. With my boss’s thrift for words having rubbed off fairly well on me, I finalised the text with not five but mere three words. It read, “Lake is full”.
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