"Don't tell your mother about this. She wouldn't approve", he says. We're driving down through rubber plantations on our way to Ernakulam.
"I'm going to have a 'small'", he replies, and he pulls out a bottle of McDowell's whiskey and a bluish glass tumbler. Booze at 11.30 in the morning, and that too IMFL? Heck, forget about my mom, I don't approve. However, I don't say anything. I have to get into town today and buy a ticket out for a flight this evening and I can't afford to not take the ride. Besides, he isn't driving, so it's not so bad.
"Life in Kerala is a little different", he offers by way of explanation. I murmur something and offer my conciliatory smile - tight upper lip, flash of the teeth, emphasize the pseudo-dimples on either side of my mouth. "We'll have to stop for a second so I can pour a drink", he tells the driver.
We're making pretty good time down the two-lane state highway through the hills, overtaking slow-moving autos and KSRTC buses by playing chicken with on-coming traffic in the opposite lane, ducking back onto our side of the road just in time. I'm pretty impressed with the Lancer - there really is something to that whole rally-based technology thing. Trying to find a place to stop, though, is a bit more difficult on the narrow road. The first open space near the road that we spot isn't suitable - it turns out to be in front of someone's gate, and they're trying to get their car out. The second isn't much better - it's right in front of a chapel, and my host's Syrian Catholic upbringing gets the better of him. The next spot has a similar problem - there's a temple just up the road, and our driver's a Hindu.
Rejecting another spot because it's just after a blind turn, we finally stop in front of a small shop, probably shut because it's a Sunday. A little fumbling with the bottle, a Patiala peg (how's that for North-South integration?) poured into the tumbler with soda and then we're off again.
The only CDs in the car are compilations of old Malayalam movie songs. Chitra's voice skips on the CD player every time we go over a pot-hole, of which there are a fair number. It's like a bad remix, like when she did that arbit album way back in the 90's with the Voodoo Rapper.
"I think I need to pee", he says. We start searching for another place to stop. This time not only does it have to be away from places of worship, other people's gates/fences/walls, and not around a blind turn, it's also got to be a little secluded. Man needs his privacy.
We find a spot, and he asks me if I need to go as well. I say I'm fine, thanks. Since he's gotten out of the car, he decides he may as well smoke a cigarette, so I get out to stretch my legs. I'm wearing a slim-fit shirt, and he looks at me and says - "Do you work out? You should. You've got a good frame." Gyaan on working out follows. Repeat conciliatory smile and mumblings.
We get back into the car. "I might as well pour myself another, save us the bother of finding another spot later", he says. Why not. After all, we're still an hour away from Ernakulam, and lunch.
The music's changed to songs from old black and white films - Prem Nazir in white pants, women in mundu-pavadai, the promise of communism and social revolution in the air.
My mom calls to check on how we're doing. "Everything's fine", I say,"Don't worry."