It is a tragedy that hardly a day goes by without reading a disturbing news story regarding the havoc caused by excessive consumption of alcohol in our country. Public brawls after a bout of heavy drinking seem to have become the norm in the North and there is an alarming rise in the number of alcohol-fueled rapes in Delhi,particularly in Gurgaon.
Even down South,where the populace is generally regarded as less macho and volatile,unrestricted access to alcohol in pubs in Chennai and Bangalore has led to the malaise of underage drinking. In Mumbai,virtually every day,drunk driving results in the senseless death of fellow passengers,pedestrians and people sleeping on the pavements. In Gujarat,a dry state,the parched locals drive down to the neighbouring Daman to wet their whistle and binge drink on cheap booze,causing mayhem on the highways during weekends. In the North East,alcoholism is becoming rampant,even among women,and is often a pathway to narcotic abuse.
Of course,this problem is not just restricted to the affluent or the middle class with their burgeoning disposable income. The poor often die or are maimed as a result of drinking illicit hooch made from rubber tyres and adulterated spirit. Families across all strata of society suffer beatings and financial ruin brought on by alcoholism.
It seems we Indians have a really hard time handling our alcohol and this menace is only getting exacerbated with the mushrooming of bars,night clubs and pubs in small towns across India. Big liquor companies,prohibited from advertising their products,are now the chief sponsors at fashion shows,art exhibitions,book launches and sporting events.
Consumption of alcohol,once considered a taboo,is now regarded as a sign of freedom,modernity and progress. Efforts to curb excessive drinking have met with little success.
A few half-baked public service campaigns will not really deter tipplers from getting sloshed. In Mumbai,the government has taxed liquor heavily,which has resulted in the closing down of over a hundred bars this year. There is even regular police nakabandi on the streets,breathalyser checks and the fear of getting thrown into jail if caught driving drunk; but still alcohol related fatalities remain high.
The problem perhaps lies in the fact that the average Indian drinks primarily to get drunk. We still view alcohol as a means to getting smashed and not as something that ought to be imbibed and savoured in its self. The mystique of whiskey,the complexity of fine wine,the crispness of good vodka,the heady infusion of gin imbibing alcohol can be rewarding if you drink responsibly and know when to stop. As with most things in life,moderation is obviously the key.
Unfortunately,as far as drinking is concerned,we Indians are much like indigenously produced wine. We still need to mature.