This funny incident also happened in 1982 in Pakistan. The scene- Hilton, Lahore.
This was our second week in Pakistan. After first week in Islamabad, which was mostly meetings with policy makers and senior bureaucrats in the government of Pakistan, we were now to undertake field visits to the proposed project areas in the Punjab province.
Dr. Kurien left for India after the first week. So, when we reached Lahore, Mike and I were to ourselves, while the rest of the mission members from the world bank had their own way of socialising between themselves in the evenings.
After we checked in the hotel, Mike asked the hotel manager, if alcohol is served in the hotel. The manager replied that as foreigners, we could get a permit that would entitled us to a ‘unit’ of alcohol during our stay of one week in the hotel. He added that the hotel issues the permit and we will be required to do a bit of paper work.
The paper work was simple. We had to just fill out an application form with our passport and visa details. The person responsible for issuing the liquor permit verified the details and issued us the permits. One permit entitled a person to either a one litre bottle of ‘finest’ whiskey made in Pakistan or 16 bottles of beer. So, between Mike and me we had two permit with a choice of picking two bottles of whiskey, 32 bottles of beer or one bottle of whiskey and 16 bottles of beer.
We chose the last option and decided to use Mike’s permit first and picked a bottle of Pakistani whiskey from the hotel’s wine shop.
I don’t know how strict the current prohibition laws in Pakistan are, but we were there during the rule of General Zia Ul Haq. During his time, drinking by Pakistanis and especially Muslims was strictly forbidden. The law breakers were awarded severe punishment and there was an atmosphere of fear among the citizens lest someone is caught breaking the prohibition law that included not only the person found drinking, in illegal possession of alcohol and the one who served alcohol.
The ‘finest’ Pakistani whiskey was a disappointment. And that was Mike’s opinion as he understood the qualities of whiskey way better than I did. And if I couldn’t relish the taste of it, imagine what Mike’s reaction must have been. So, we decided to opt for beer on my permit after we were somehow done with the Pakistani whiskey.
This was the middle of the week and after the day long field visits, we were relaxing in Mike’s room. We decided that we will ask for just four bottles of beer- each was 650 ml for the evening.
I called the hotel’s wine shop and placed the order. I gave Mike’s room number where the beer bottles were to be delivered.
There was knock on the door after about 5 minutes. I opened the door and found a handsome young waiter, in his twenties holding four bottles of chilled beer in a tray. He very politely asked, ‘May I come in sir’? I said, ‘yes, please do come in’.
He then came in and placed the tray on the table. He then passed the bill to Mike for him to sign.
Since, the permit was in my name, I asked him to hand the bill to me to sign. The young man was horrified that a local person was hosting a white man and is going to sign the bill and that too under General Zia’s regime.
We understood his dilemma, exchanged glances and decided to have some fun at the poor waiters expense.
Mike, without uttering a word, pointed towards me indicating to the waiter that he will sign the bill. This young fellow, I guess knew some English but was intimidated in Mike’s presence and fumbles in Urdu, ‘wo sahab sign nahin karsakte’.
As he said this, I realised that he is confused about my nationality and if I used my limited urdu-punjabi, it will confused him more. Why not have some lighter moments, I thought and told him, ‘order hamne kiya hai, to sign bhi ham hi karenge. Ye angrej kaise karenge’?
‘Nahin sahab, aap sign nahin kar sakte. Aap to order bhi nahin de sakte. Aapko pata hai na ki musalmaano ke liye sharaab peena mana hai aur kanooni jurm hai. Aap ko to saza hogi aur aap mujh garib ko bhi jail bhijava denge. Meri to nayee nayee naukari lagi hai’.
This knowledge was more fun. I decided to carry on the tussle for a while as Mike continued to enjoy it. Mike, although didn’t speak Hindi, could understand what was going on between me and the waiter and signalled me to carry on for a little longer.
I then changed my expression- pseudo anger and told the waiter firmly, ‘Hum na sirf bill sign karaenge, balki poori do bottle beer bhi piyenge. Chupchap bill hamare hawale karo’.
Poor fellow was terrified. The fear of losing the job had taken him over. I saw his frightened expression. Then he acted fast, hurriedly picked the tray and held it close to his chest.
‘Sahab,aap ko bataya na ki Pakistani log aur khas kar musalmaan sharab nahi pi sakte. Ye kanooni gunah hai. Aap musalmaan hokar bhi ye baat nahi samajh rahe ho’. He fired the last salvo and turned towards the door.
I then stopped him, asked him to keep the tray on the table, pulled out my passport and showed it to him.
I said, Main Hindustani hoon. Jara mera naam padho, kya ye Muslim naam hai’?
As he read my name, he turned pale. With tears about to flow from his eyes, he profusely apologised and requested me to not to complain to the hotel management about his rude behaviour.
I smiled and told him that He doesn’t have to fear as we were just having a little fun at your expense. We have no intention to harm you in any way. I then signed the bill and tipped him double the normal amount. He was hesitant to take the tip but we insisted saying, ‘this is just a token reward for your sincerity towards your job’.
He left reassured with a smile and we had the most courteous room service for the rest of the three days in the hotel.