Alcohol is a taboo subject in the country for almost everyone but patriarchy turns a blind eye to men. A man with a glass of alcohol is seldom looked down upon. Often the age of maturity for a man is socially determined by the time he starts drinking. His tolerance is a mark of strength and perseverance. For a woman, alcohol is a subject which is rarely broached. It is considered indecent and impure. That's why when a woman breaks through the male dominated industry, one must celebrate her acumen and achievements.
Meet Minakshi Singh. A woman who is breaking new ground in India's beverage business. Singh always wanted to own and run a bar. Today she is behind some of the best bars in the country, Sidecar and Cocktails and Dreams in Delhi. SideCar is the 40th bar out of Top 50 in Asia and ranks 91 out of Top 100 in the world.
1.How did you discover this passion of mixology and bartending?
I was interested in this 16 years ago. I am a student of IHM Pusa and in order to earn more we all started doing part-time jobs. Bartending paid twice as more as any other job and we all got super excited about it. The idea of serving drinks, mixing them, serving customers and making them feel comfortable truly gave me zeal. During campus interviews everyone expected me to go for the managerial post and start working as a manager. However, the idea of bartending truly excited me. That's how this started.
2.Did you face obstacles in the same because of your gender? Taking into consideration, the Jessica Lal case, how did it make you feel about your decision?
Let's be honest. There is no conversation about safe and healthy consumption of liquor. Making a safe and informed choice is very important. If one practices it under control, there is absolutely no harm and damage to this. It is a taboo market for both men and women. Even if men are excused, women and alcohol are two concepts which are rarely mixed in the country. In this country, hazaar rule hain aurato ke liye. It is frowned upon when women consumer alcohol, let alone work with it. It is also thought of as a lowly job. It is not so in the West. Bartending as a profession is not considered a respectful profession. So, over all there are valid difficulties in becoming a part of this profession.
3.How did your parents react to this choice of yours?
My parents were initially not happy. My distant family and close friends, everyone thought that I was making a mistake and probably ruining my life. But when I depicted that I was truly passionate about it as an art, they understood. My father supported me a lot. He said that I should not wait until I am 55 to fulfil my dreams. My partner, now my husband, gave me a lot of encouragement. I never really cared about what anyone said, sach mein.
4. Only 12% of the people in the world are into mixology. Only 11% people in India are women entrepreneurs. Do you think the odds are big and often discouraging?
Absolutely. I can only speak for a cosmopolitan city and modern place. It is only in such liberated and open spaces where this culture is accepted. I believe we are a very small speck in the spectrum. It is often assumed that if you are a bartender you spend most of your time drinking. While, it is almost the opposite. It is like assuming that a chef keeps eating food. Change bahut bada hai. Hopefully, it will trickle down to the rest of the country. Women have it difficult but changes like these make the impact bigger. Like cooks are now called chefs, they are being given that respect. They have their own cover pages and are treated like celebrities. Similarly this change is coming in the profession of bartending.
5. Any advice to someone who wants to make it in this profession?
A lot of people get attracted to it for the glitz, for the glamour and to get possible photos with celebrities. I would like to suggest this profession only if you are truly and deeply in love with the experience of hospitality. There are several pros and quite a few cons of this job. If you are ready to handle the pressure, dedicate the time and put in the work, it is one of the most interesting experiences ever. Try part-time at first, experience the job and then see how it works out for you.
6. Women in Indian culture are often expected to be pious and sacrificial like Sita and other goddesses. Drinking does not form a part of the 'ideal' woman picture. How do you think that affects the composition of your bar and its space?
India in general looks at alcohol as a "very Saturday night clubbing karenge" thing. This is not so abroad. They drink very casually and enjoy after working hours as well. We are trying to make a similar culture where drinking can be enjoyed very casually, at any time. I feel so happy watching girls drink and confidently order. Our staff is also culturally trained to understand and treat all consumers equally. It is a bar where you can come alone and drink as well. It makes me so proud that we can provide a safe atmosphere for women to come and relax.