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The Legend of the Flying Kharbanda

This article was written by Spadika Jayaraj (Batch of 2016).

“I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky”

– R. Kelly, I Believe I Can Fly (1998)

It was a warm summer evening in 2004. A group of young law schoolites were sitting around in a circle on Ganga terrace, doing what young law schoolites often do on Ganga terrace. It was just like any other evening, but if one looked closely, they could see that the young men had with them some interesting condiments- a fistful of sugar, a half of lime, a sprig of mint. Shots were poured, drinks were mixed, condiments added. One of the young men on the terrace, Mr. Kharbanda, took a large swig of the newly concocted drink. The kind of swig that precedes bad decisions, or at the very least, bad hangovers. He winced. The others laughed at his poor judgment. Mr. Kharbanda rose up and staggered towards the edge of the terrace. He was convinced that this drink had the potential to lift more than just his spirits. He placed one foot on the ledge of the terrace. He believed that this drink could make him…fly.

I first heard this story on Surya terrace five years ago, in 2011. As an innocent first year, I listened in rapt attention as my seniors asked the waiters at Surya to bring lemons, sugar and mint along with the usual order of OMR and cheap vodka. I was told that this story was the origin of the legendary Law School drink aptly named ‘The Flying Kharbanda’. I gulped the story down along with the (strong and vile) drink. Five years hence, I realized that if there is one thing Law School taught me, it’s to question everything. Another thing it has taught me is that Law School storytellers are prone to exaggeration. So I set out to find out the true story behind this legendary drink.

My long and treacherous search for the objective truth behind the Flying Kharbanda culminated in a Facebook group chat with three super-seniors, all of whom were intricately connected to the story. The first was Mr. Abhimanyu George Jain, Batch of 2011, the one who had shared the recipe with my seniors. The second was from the Batch of 2009, Mr. Satyajit Sarna (“Surd”), storyteller extraordinaire and author of ‘The Angel’s Share’, an excellent novel set in Law School. And the third, whom I never expected to meet in person (okay, on Facebook), was the eponymous Mr. Vipul Kharbanda himself. Mr. Kharbanda is from the batch of 2007, and now works in Allahabad in the legal publishing industry. Introductions were swapped, pleasantries dealt with, and we got to the meat of the matter- What is the story behind the Flying Kharbanda? What is the original recipe?

Our History courses have taught us that oral traditions are important sources of information, but one must be mindful of how time (and unreliable narrators) have the tendency to bend the truth. In the case of the Flying Kharbanda, there is an added level of complexity- that the authors of the story were drunk at the time of its inception, so they don’t remember it clearly themselves. Surd and Mr. Kharbanda had varying conceptions of the origin of the drink, but one thing was certain- that it had nothing to do with Ganga terrace and anyone trying to jump off it. After some back and forth, a fuzzy outline emerged. As it is difficult to tell a story better than Surd himself, I will quote his version verbatim:

“I was sitting at a fine dining establishment at KR Market with my friend Vipul Kharbanda. Just before we are served (amuse bouche, appetisers, entrees – you know how it goes under the flyover), Vipul gets a call from his elder brother Varun. Varun too is a student in Bangalore, but is studying medicine. He in turn has some friends down from somewhere who are asking him to make them a truly excellent drink. In these straitened times he has fallen on young Vipul. In our hurry to get back to our food, we concoct a sickening drink and relay it over the phone to Varun. The idea was to come up with something that would hit its drinker so hard that he could forget how foul it tasted. Then we forgot all about it and got back to dinner. Twenty minutes later, we got a call from four drunk medical students who were raving about it.”

Applying the highest standards of academic rigour, I thought it was important to hear Mr. Kharbanda’s version as well. According to him, he was not with Surd at the time, but at his sister’s wedding, where he was tending the bar with his brother. They called up Surd to ask for a cocktail recipe that they could serve to guests, and the Flying Kharbanda was born. Suffice it to say that if this is the true version of the story and the drink was indeed served at the wedding, the event would have seen several of the Kharbandas flying higher than they had prepared for.

As all Law School legends go, the original story is not as interesting as what has been passed on. With every session in Surya and enthusiastic senior narrating the story to clueless juniors, the story has been infused with elements drawn from the imagination of each narrator. However, the beauty of legends is that they create templates for stories, and in turn, memories.

Surprisingly, while the story has substantially changed character, the recipe of the drink is almost intact in collective memory. For those who don’t know, or want to know exactly what it was at the time of concoction, here it is: [1]

The Flying Kharbanda

Start with Old Monk Rum, 30 ml

Add any cheap vodka, 30 ml

Add a spoonful of sugar, pinch of pepper and juice of half a lemon

Top up the mix with Sprite

Garnish with a sprig of crushed mint

[1] Mr. Kharbanda adds that he has seen a version of the drink where Whiskey is also added to the mix. Needless to say, this version is not recommended unless you really, really hate the person you are serving it to.

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