Growing up in a liberal family in Mumbai, Khushnaz Raghina has always been responsible for bar-tending in her family. Whether it was her father’s rum and water or her mother’s Sunday Shandy, she always persisted to get the ratios right, she tells SheThePeople.TV. “If there was a party at home, the bar was always my responsibility,” she says.
However, she never thought of taking bar-tending professionally as she recollects, “I wanted to become a Psychologist, however, I missed out on getting Psychology as my preferred subject of choice by half a per cent. It wasn’t long until I realized I could give better solutions from across the bar counter,” Khushnaz says.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN?
When Psychology, didn’t happen to her, she took up a course in Hotel Management without knowing what she wanted to do professionally with it. However, something happened that showed her the path.
“One day, I noticed a senior in college juggling bottles on fire behind my college building. On approaching him, he was more than happy to teach me a couple of his signature moves. That intrigued me. I loved how thrilled my friends and family would get when I would show them a few moves, I learnt, while fixing a drink,” she recollected.
She later enrolled herself into an inter-college bartending competition and to her surprise, she was the only girl in a crowd of 30 boys. “There were giggles in the room, whispers in the air and curiosity was brewing amongst the lads, ‘What is a girl doing in a bartending competition?’
I was quite confident and looking forward to showing off my work flair sequence. At the end of the competition, I came second and I felt like I was on cloud nine!”
ALSO READ: Whisky Lady in India: Carissa Hickling
TAKING BARTENDING PROFESSIONALLY
After winning the competition, Khushnaz took up a part-time job at the nightclub in JW Marriott, Pune as a bartender in her final year of Hotel Management. “My manager was a visionary leader and looked beyond gender. He challenged and pushed me to my potential, and ever since then, there was no looking back,” says she.
Bartending goes beyond mixing drinks, Khushnaz explains that as a bartender one has to play multiple roles—a friend, listener, entertainer, storyteller and craftsman. “The joy in playing with flavours and ingredients, exploring India’s rich flora, crafting a cocktail is all an emotional ride,” she said.
“A strong sense of Atithi devo bhava sucked me straight into the industry and to never turn back.”
FEWER WOMEN BARTENDERS AND OTHER CHALLENGES
While it is an exotic profession, it is also highly dominated by men. Talking about why there is a lack of women bartenders in the country, she said, “There is lack of respect. Even today, women are prohibited to drink alcohol in parts of our society. Society deems working late hours as humiliating and labels women in a certain way.
As soon as the society starts respecting bartending as a profession and not as a taboo, women would feel more comfortable exploring the field.”
While bartending could be seen as a taboo profession even for men in the Indian society, women bartenders face far bigger challenges. There are all kinds of comments thrown at them— Khushnaz tells us of a few like, “Oh, she’s so frail, Oh, so petite, those alcohol bottles must be so very heavy” or “Hey pretty face, what will you do making drinks? You should take up modelling” or “Oh good lord! She returns home at 5 AM, where could she have been?” or misogynistic comments like “Is there a man around? For whisky I speak, I’d come to you tomorrow over an English Breakfast Tea.”
There is a lack of respect. Even today, women are prohibited to drink alcohol in parts of our society. Society deems working late hours as humiliating and labels women in a certain way.
However, rather than bringing her spirits down, these comments make her stronger, competent and passionate towards what she does. And another reason that keeps Khushnaz going is the support from her family. “They absolutely love it! From rooting for me during competitions, to throwing a party with my cocktails. They couldn’t be prouder of what I do,” she smiles.
It has been six years for Khushnaz in this profession and she has had quite a successful ride. “From helping organize proposals to be proposed (sometimes alcohol does the talking), from laughing so hard with a guest to literally drop onto our knees, to meet people I now call family. I’ve competed in various bartending competitions and met some fabulous bartenders on the way. I’ve come a long way from being a bartender to Diageo India’s Brand Ambassador. And I’ve learnt so much and I am still learning, still being inspired and aiming to inspire,” says Khushnaz.