Blame It on the Alcohol: An Unintentional Bender in New Delhi

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What happens when an abstainer, inspired by Islam and confirmed by palate, is accidentally served a daiquiri at a friend's wedding in India.

Credit: Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock

After a quarter century of never imbibing so much as a drop of alcohol, it was a strawberry daiquiri at a lovely garden party in New Delhi that did me in. That watered-down libation, the contents of which I'm still not entirely sure about, kicked off a series of of close encounters of the boozy kind.

My decision not to drink has never been a complicated one: it's inspired by Islam, reaffirmed by observations, and cemented by palate. I was raised with the understanding that alcohol was haram -- forbidden -- and, as a perennial goody two-shoes, it would never have occurred to my rule-abiding self to challenge that decree. Furthermore, I don't see the appeal of giving up control of my already delicate faculties, only to then invite the inevitable hangovers. As anyone who has witnessed my interpretation of "Wannabe" during a night out at karaoke can attest, I do a sufficiently adequate job of making a fool out of myself while completely sober. Just call me Curly Spice.

But if an aversion to ridiculing myself any more than is my baseline weren't enough, as a picky eater I also avoid introducing my taste buds to things that could potentially offend any of my senses. I've refused to eat guava because the name sounds funny, eschewed caviar because it looks funny, and shunned bubble tea because the texture feels funny; why would I voluntarily drink something that, to me at least, smells funny? A whiff of beer reminds me of urine, wine of bad breath, vodka of ammonia. I will concede that apple martinis do smell like Jolly Ranchers in a delightful liquid form, albeit mixed with more than a hint of paint thinner.

Being a teetotaler isn't so hard, especially when you don't know anything else. In college I held back my share of matted hair and concealed my pinched expression from view as friends thrust their faces into toilet bowls. At restaurants and lounges, I order water (I don't even like soda... or coffee... or tea). For me, the highlight of a bachelorette trip to Vegas was being in the audience of a stage-show version of the Price Is Right; the closest I got to any debauchery that weekend was when our waiter at a trendy restaurant revealed that he'd been a Chippendales dancer in a past life. I've often attributed my ability to subsist on an alarmingly low salary in New York City on not having to shell out for $12 cocktails on a regular basis. Judging by how frequently I'm invited out "for drinks," I can only presume that most of my acquaintances choose alcohol over rent.

"I am so sorry may-dam, I am so deeply sorry. I do not know how I could do such a thing. Please forgive me!" He was reeling.

My week in India started out innocently enough. I was in New Delhi for a friend's wedding along with a host of other Americans, and Dom Pérignon flowed freely at the welcome soirée. I approached the bar to see if any festive non-alcoholic drinks could be concocted from the glinting array of bottles, and after some lengthy consultation, the bartender and I agreed upon a virgin strawberry daiquiri. I rejoined my friends, rose-colored confection in hand.

The drink was a hit, so I flagged down a waiter for a sequel. "Can I get one more virgin strawberry daiquiri, please?" I inquired sweetly, gesturing to the vestiges of pink froth in my empty cup. Moments later another glass materialized, only something was off. I still kept sipping at it, willing it to taste like the previous one. I finished the whole thing and felt somewhat light-headed, even dizzy. Wait a second, I thought, my heart pounding. No, no, it's not possible, no way, you're just jet-lagged, I assured myself, grabbing onto the nearest chair for support.

But soon other acquaintances began whining about being served mojitos instead of martinis. "I don't think the waiters understand our accents," a friend complained about the rash of mixed-up orders. Now the unspoken possibility suddenly seemed a lot more real: The bartender knew I'd wanted a non-alcoholic drink because I'd conferred with him extensively about my liquor-free options; could the passing waiter have not heard the "virgin" that prefaced my "strawberry daiquiri"? I'll never know.

Turns out, that incident merely heralded the beginning of my week-long bender.

A few days later, exhausted from dance practice under the command of a slave-driving male professional choreographer whose hips beguiled in ways mine refused to emulate, I descended upon a lavish dessert spread with ravenous abandon. "Oh, my God, the sweets are amazing!" exclaimed the bride's sister. "That tiramasu -- ahh! You could taste every drop of the rum, it was completely... soaked... in... it."

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Sarah Khan is an editor at Travel + Leisure magazine. You can read more of her work at bysarahkhan.com.

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