The first time anyone offered me an alcoholic drink was during Bulldog Days three springs ago, at a debate I happened to randomly stop by. I said no, and was thrilled to have done so.
Coming from a fairly conservative family in India where drinking is unthinkable for a girl and very undesirable for a boy, I saw no pressing reason to breach the implicit values of my upbringing. (The old women in the community I belong to tend to give dirty, condescending looks to men who decide to take a night off to play cards and drink.) Self-control is a much-lauded virtue in Indian culture, and I was sent off to America with more than full confidence in my ability to hold against the hedonistic tendencies of its college culture.
But I was thrilled when I was offered that drink during Bulldog Days, because it was the first time I got to exercise my choice. What is more, I was in a place where my choice was duly respected, and I felt comfortable in a manner I never would have imagined before.
Such a situation, of course, is far from the norm at Yale. Come freshman fall, I was dragged along to the usual weekend parties where refusal to drink would inevitably produce smirks and assurances that within a few weeks I would leave my high ground. A friend of mine taking acne drugs that could damage the liver when taken with so much as a sip of alcohol was accused of being sanctimonious. Friends asked if she really thought herself morally superior to the rest of them.
The underlying assumption, of course, was that fun consists of being in a state in between trying to talk, pretending to dance and finding someone to hook up with in a semi-dark room with loud music. And to be able to actually partake of this fun, of course, as I was reminded over and over again, you really needed to be somewhat drunk.
It might seem counterintuitive to say this, but Yale’s party culture actually has two important characteristics that we tend to overlook. These are muteness and its consequent loneliness. While there are exceptions, the typical Yale party, on campus or off campus, is hardly where conversations are the norm. Not unrelated to this, a typical Yale party is also hardly the place where one would even begin to develop a meaningful personal bond with anyone.
I do have friends who are very personable and conversational and at the same time very happy to party. I can hear them arguing that there’s plenty of other time for conversations and building relationships. At parties, you can let loose, and isn’t that great? We lead such stress-filled lives — do we not deserve a few nights without worrying about the how-are-yous and the nice-to-meet-yous that Yale overflows with?
Is that really true? Do we really have a lot of time here? A month at Yale passes at the speed of a week at home. As such, weird as it may sound, parties, just like homework and extracurriculars, really encroach upon the time we have at Yale to talk, to converse and to make friendships that will last a lifetime. Our parties, despite being overly crowded and very loud remain, at heart, mute and impersonal.
It is ironic that a culture so heavily dependent on alcohol has at its core this muteness and loneliness. I say ironic because alcohol is probably the greatest social lubricant man has known. The joy to be found in drinking in the company of friends is unique. Most importantly, alcohol loosens our tongues and gets us talking and sharing our deepest secrets in a way few things do.
This summer, in France, I tasted wine for the first time. It would have been idiotic, I told myself, to be in France and miss out on the opportunity. This fall, in the same debate hall where I had refused that drink three springs ago, I was toasted at our last toasting session, and proceeded to sip from the brimming Mory’s cup. We sang ridiculous songs and made ridiculous toasts. I myself toasted to alcohol and quoted “Madhushala,” or “The House of Wine,” the most remembered work of Harivansh Rai Bacchan, poet extraordinaire of 20th-century India: “Alas, he that with eager lips has not kissed this wine, / Alas, he that trembling with joy has not touched a brimming goblet, / … / Has wasted this honey-filled tavern of life.”
There are few places at Yale where we properly celebrate alcohol. Alcohol should hardly be a deterrent to conversation and the building of relationships. If only we looked beyond the dominating party culture of our times, we would appreciate this end a lot more.
Radhika Koul is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.