Kerala’s liquor policy: Did anyone check the bill?

A bar was where Kerala gathered for its evening adda. Where you grew up, grew old, grew bitter and in many cases, stopped growing.

Written by Ajay Shankar | Updated: September 9, 2015 1:54 pm
Keralaliquor BBC: Kerala has India’s highest per capita alcohol consumption at more than eight liters per person yearly.

As the sun began to set over Kerala’s first dry Sunday, a group of Malayalis on the other side of the Arabian Sea raised their glasses to the past before texting their friends back home – the future, they wrote, will never be the same again.

Over the years, for as long as any average Malayali can remember, a ‘liquor policy’ simply meant choosing which brand to drink that evening, or which bar to go to. Today, those two words point towards a tomorrow that nobody seems to want to wake up to.

You can sense that undercurrent of dread behind the hundreds of jokes, punchlines and memes that have been buzzing on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp – there was one mock poster doing the rounds advertising a guided tour every Sunday to neighbouring Mahe where liquor is available across the counter and at ‘union territory’ rates.

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t the Kerala government doing a good thing by closing down bars, imposing dry days and locking up its liquor outlets? Anyway, who wants to belong to a state that faithfully hits the headlines ever year for the money it makes from the booze it sells, right?

Point. But then, for many from that southern corner, a bar was never really a place to get drunk senseless, was it? For them, an evening at a bar in Kerala was all about politics, cinema, friendship, Sreesanth, beef fry, green peas masala, tacky ice buckets and that lingering feeling of doubt as you stumbled out: did anyone check the bill?

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A bar was where Kerala gathered for its evening adda. Where you grew up, grew old, grew bitter and in many cases, stopped growing. It was where promises where made and forgotten before the next peg. It was where many myths were born and spread – he scribbled the thread of that movie on a paper napkin at that table; he recited that poem over there; I have served him so many times, he knows me so well.

But yes, a bar in Kerala was also where thousands of lives were destroyed. Where families were broken – husbands heading home in a frightening rage, fathers tottering out and falling by the roadside and sons turning into beasts. Where friendships that were meant to last a lifetime disintegrated in a burst of angry words.

So much so that even the BBC felt compelled to note when the liquor ban hit the headlines: “Kerala has India’s highest per capita alcohol consumption at more than eight litres per person yearly. Doctors and activists have highlighted rising alcohol abuse, blaming it for many road accidents and even marital breakdown. They say hospitals and rehabilitation centres are packed with patients suffering from alcohol-related diseases.”

Of course, the Supreme Court, in its initial observations, has wondered about the logic behind a blanket ban. But still, with the government determined to pull the shutters down forever on Kerala’s bars, you can’t help but ask yourself one final time: did anyone check the bill?

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