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Here is a rather funny (or embarrassing!) story about me from the time I was a mere fifteen year old.

It had been a long day. I had spent the day with father and mother, and a couple who were friends of theirs, and probably two of their children, I don’t remember too well. We had visited places and people in the neighboring state and were on our way back home, a good two hours drive away. It was late. One by one the children dozed off and soon I followed suit. Something woke me up a while later. Opening my eyes groggily I realized the car had stopped at a check post.

I was still half asleep, but apparently my nostrils were wide awake. I smell spirit, I said sleepily. No one said anything. I smell spirit, I repeated. And for good measure, ‘Why is there a smell of spirit in the car?‘ Someone shushed me then, discreetly, but I was not going to be shushed. No one had acknowledged my statement. Perhaps they hadn’t heard. I can smell spirit, where is it coming from? I asked. This time there was no doubt about it. Keep quiet, mother said in an annoyed whisper though I couldn’t understand why she was talking in a whisper or why she was annoyed.

Fortunately the car moved forward just then and the adults started laughing and ‘discussing’ me and my repeated statements of ‘I smell spirit’. I was so embarrassed, I heard father saying. She wouldn’t keep quiet, going on and on about smelling spirit, criticized mother. Frankly, no one explained, but implied by way of their talking that I had committed a faux pas. So it left me confused and wondering what it was I had done wrong.

You must understand that in 1974 I was an innocent babe in the woods. My family consisted of teetotalers. I had never been exposed to liquor or even the way it smells. So when I went on about the ‘smell of spirit’ when we stopped at the check post, I actually meant the medicinal base (which is distilled alcohol and so smells the same) used in homoeopathy which I was familiar with, what with my natal family being strict homoeopaths. I had absolutely no idea liquor smelled the same.

By now you must have guessed. The men at the check post were in an inebriated condition and smelling to high heaven of alcohol. Father and his friend had been answering their queries as to where we were headed, showing them the necessary papers and waiting for them to finish checking the boot. They were aware the men were drunk on duty but did not wish to draw attention to the fact that they knew. When I woke up, with my repeated I-smell-spirits I had done precisely that.

Its a shame though how none of the adults really explain things to you. All I heard following the incident was them repeating the story between themselves and their peers, and laughing at my expense. Really, I do not understand this about my previous generation. Why did they laugh at children’s ignorance? How could they? I know, this part when I think of it, is not really funny. But when I finally pieced it all together from new found knowledge in later years, I started finding it pretty funny.

© Shail Mohan 2021