An ‘Age Bar’ in God’s own country

Anjali Mathew

Every time a Malayali gets sober and sits down to down a peg or two, some or the other bunch of politicians in power remind him that there is a slip between the cup and the lip. This time, the slip is age: A 23-year-old can raise a toast but a 21-year-old cannot stand in line for his quarter and pint!
The LDF government has raised the drinking age from 21 to 23. The 21-year-old has been told that he is not man enough to raise the glass but in two years’ time he will have grown. So, patience.
The Ordinance hiking the Daru drinking age is with the Governor for his signature. And if the Governor had ever been to a Wine Shop (‘Beverages Shop’ in Kerala), he would have seen that there is whisky called Signature!
Those who taken a peep at the Ordinance said the Ordinance will make suitable amendments to the state Abkari laws. The Congress called it a gimmick and alleged that liquor was freely available in the State unlike when the Congress was in power from 2011 to 2016.
Now everybody but the drunk knows that alcohol sinks a man in time even if he remains afloat for a number of years. The bottle always has the last word. So, if the State does not have the political will to go for Prohibition, it should not come up with Ordinances such as this one.
All and sundry know people don’t carry age certificates to the liquor vend. And in India people don’t go to liquor outlets in ones and twos. No matter what time of the day or evening, the queues at liquor dens can put to shame those at ration shops. Women who are wives of the perennial drunk are hardly have money to go draw the family’s quota of rice, aatta and daal.
Earlier this year I was in Trivandrum and a friend of mine was at pains to tell me that he had no liquor with him to raise a toast because of the ‘prohibition’ imposed on the state by the previous government of Oommen Chandy.
The Congress chief minister's liquor policy was to allow liquor bars only in 5-Star hotels. Urrent CM Pinaryi Vijayan extended support to the policy. Women are a big vote-bank and both fronts put their best foot forward. As many as 730 liquor bars attached to hotels with less than 5-Star tags were shut down. Bar owners and their employees along with beef-fry vendors and the Moongfalie wallah were left high and dry.
The prohibition plan of Chandy attracted global media attention.  “It led to loss of revenue, pushback from Kerala’s lifeline industries such as tourism and IT and serious allegations of corruption…,” one journalist wrote. A group of liquor contractors charged the finance minister with “making money using the state budget”. 
The Bar Hotel Owners’ association said its members had given Rs 5 crore to the minister for opening the bars shut down by the government. Under pressure the government ordered a vigilance enquiry. It was “scandalous” everyone – sober and drunk – agreed.
One valuable lesson politicians learned from the episode was that bar owners know secrets. And they don’t keep secrets! One secret that the local media reported, courtesy bar owners, was that the finance minister had a currency counting machine at home!
The minister, because he presented budgets, was an easy target. And because he headed a party which was part of the UDF, he could not be shunted out without repercussions. Chandy found himself stuck up a tree in a cyclone. The opposition LDF threatened to go on war on the issue.
To add to Chandy’s troubles the episode went viral on Social Media. Noting that Mani (his name) “wanted money” people sent him money. The local post office got flooded with money orders. Money collection drives for the Mani were organized.
It was fun till it lasted but it tested Chandy’s survival skills. The bar owners took their grouse to the Supreme Court and the apex court pulled up the government and questioned it for the lack of uniformity in liquor policy.
It is no secret that not all but a substantial number of men of Kerala swim in Rum and whisky and Brandy (the overwhelming favourite) even though Kerala has an extensive coastline with some of the finest beaches on the planet.
Kerala also has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in India. The state takes seriously its status as number one in all spheres of life, literacy, health, suicides…
This Onam, the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (BEVCO) sold a record Rs 440 crore of liquor, a double digit rise over the previous year’s. And this is not counting Toddy (not to be confused with Teddy) consumption, which happens to be the poor man’s Single Malt.
So, age bar or no age bar, God’s Own Country is always awash with liquid refreshment that gives a high. Cheers! (IPA)

Saturday, 16 December, 2017