Last night I had to meet for dinner a friend at a suburban five star hotel in Mumbai. I was early and thirsty (as usual my wife may like to add), and asked for a "bar menu". I was politely informed that it was a "dry" day and the next few days were also "dry" days, which meant NO ALCOHOL. Disappointed I ordered a fresh lime soda (sweet) and buried my head into "Saturday" (a novel by Ian McEwan), as I waited for my friend to turn up (he was arriving from Chennai).
Then I noticed that some people were being served drinks and it dawned on me that foreigners are served liquors even on dry days. They are not forced to pay respect to Gandhiji. On enquiring I learnt that even NRIs will be served liquor on producing proof of their being NRIs. That cheered me up a bit since my friend was a NRI and I promptly SMSed him to get proof of his non-resident status, which will buy us a couple to quench the thirst.
Once my friend came in he ordered two drinks - a W&S for himself and a R&C for me. And this is the fun part of it and how the law is sometimes an ass, as someone more eloquent than me had once said. The person who took our order took my friend's identification, gave it a good look up and down and noted down some numbers. He said that these details have to be sent to the Excise Department.
Imagine there is someone in that government department who is supposed to check that the hotel has genuinely sold liquor to only the ones who are permitted to drink (or who need not show their respect to Gandhiji).
I started wondering how will the hotel respond if the Excise Officer asked how and why one person was mixing his drinks by ordering R and W simultaneously and will the government ban such degenerate NRIs from coming into the country? Is mixing drinks allowed or is it against the law? Should there not be a restriction then on how much alcohol one foreigner or NRI can consume on a given day/ night?
I remember two incidents (1) once before breaking the law sitting in the environs of a five star hotel with a foreigner (gora) and quaffing a pitcher of the chilled golden brew. Then my friend's passport had ensured that we were not denied the elixir. (2) The second was related to me by a journalist friend of mine. After an awards ceremony (where else but a five star hotel), there was a dinner party. Some leader of some country had passed away and India had declare a five day mourning. The minister's and government officials were apparently under strict instructions not to partake in alcoholic revelries - that is a Government of India rule when it is declares mourning although many people drink when they are sad. So the chief guest, instead of attending the dinner, quietly slinked away to his room to have a couple. Before leaving he told my friend that if any newspaper the next day publishes his photograph with a glass in hand, then his political career could be jeopardized and therefore, he preferred to drink in the solitude of his room. I am happy to report the minister's career continues to flourish.
That brings me to why I was "inspired" to write this piece. Very early on I was once told that you command respect and you earn it, you do not demand it. So why do these state government's demand that we respect the memory of our leaders in this way? Does it really help or honor anybody, least of all the memory of a dear departed leader?
The liquor shops start telling their customers way ahead of the D-day to stock up. People who want to have a drink any way do. In fact I am told by an ex-student of IIM Ahmedabad that bottles were delivered to their dorms - this is indeed unique and must be thanks to prohibition in Gujarat because in other institutes (at least in the two I have studied), we always had to go out to buy. Their was no friendly neighborhood brewer or seller who did a door to door service. For hooch in Kharagpur, - that was all we could afford - you had to go to the den of the local madam brewer.
To respect the memory of Gandhiji, the government can take one more step. On his birthday and death anniversary, having sex in India can be banned, in respect to Gandhiji's celibacy vows and experiments. On those days condoms will not be sold and only foreigners and NRIs should be allowed to have sex (and only with their likes and not with resident Indians) in India and then report the same to the Ministry of Human Resources .
Better still, they should report beforehand their intention to engage in you-know-what so that an official of the Ministry can verify that they indeed are foreigners and NRIs. Hopefully Arjun Singh will be gainfully employed and have no time for looking at reservations and other pet issues of his. Gandhiji, by his own account, had alcohol and sex in his youth and gave up for his own reasons. How does his memory get respected by forcing his countrymen by banning alcohol in certain states and by banning alcohol sales and serving of liquor on certain days I fail to understand. I wonder how we should honor Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru's memory?
I will end this piece with the story of a lunch that I had partaken more than a decade back.
I was visiting a factory under construction in central India in the early 90s. This town in Maharashtra also practices prohibition. The first thing the PRO of the company had done was to procure a medical certificate, which said that for health reasons he is allowed to drink and buy alcohol. A group of ten people had a boozy beery afternoon and then toddled of to pay respect to the late Mahatma in his Ashram in the city. India must be the only country where people want to get themselves certified as alcoholics and that does not carry a stigma! It is high time such silly rules and laws are dismantled. The citizens will anyway pay respect to the Mahatma if they are aware of his teachings and believe in the same. A film like "Lage raho Munnabhai" does it far better than all the Congressmen (and women), the self proclaimed upholders of Gandhiji's legacy, put together.
I am reminded of a Hindi verse learnt in school (it was by Sant Kabir or Surdas) - "kar ka man ka dari de, man ka manka pher" (drop the rosaries in your hand, and try and reform the rosary in your heart.) And meanwhile lets say three cheers for "sura".
(The intention of the author is not to hurt anyone's sentiments. My apologies in advance to anyone whose sentiments may have been hurt by some of my comments above.)