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Ban on Alcohol: Can Gujarat go beyond the bootlegger?

Living in Gujarat with the alcohol ban strongly influences every citizen of the state. This is what it did to me. If I had to summarize my journey in the world of alcohol, I’d say “From Gujarat to Gurgaon, to Germany, and back to Gujarat again”. So, now that that has been cemented, let’s come to how the ban has shaped me as a person. Some of these might have shaped you as well, but I hope you have your own story with you to relate with me.

As someone who was born and raised in the state of Gujarat, my initial understanding of alcohol came from knowing that it was banned.  It was also the first time I became conscious of the fact that the government can decide to not let something exist in a certain space (be it of a mental or physical one). I was yet to step into my rebellious teenage angst years and was very happy about the fact that my state has no alcohol because everything I knew about the subject also had the connotations of ‘social evil’ attached to it. I also grew up hearing the story about the man who spends all his hard earned money on alcohol and doesn’t care about his children’s future. Men who drank were labeled as wife-beaters, gamblers, lonely sad-sacks, a burden to the society, people who didn’t respect their body; the list is endless. I grew up with all these stories, which is where the conflict started: I grew up. I was confused to see elders sitting down together with some very odd looking liquid in their pristine clear glasses, raising them in a very celebratory fashion to clink and say cheers! I was very confused. I hadn’t ever seen those special glasses before as I had to stick to my everyday glass of Rasna. Why Mummy Why!?

Ah, the intoxicating liquid which everyone reacts differently to
Ah, the intoxicating liquid which everyone reacts differently to

Remember the rebellious phase I mentioned? When I transitioned into that, It made me question so many fundamentals that were pre-decided for us. I understood what was in those glasses and why I didn’t see them so often. What I didn’t understand was why that liquid needed to be connected to wife-beating, gambling, and other sundry causes. Suddenly, there were boastful conversations during recess about some guy in my senior class who had somehow gotten his hands on some alcohol. Suddenly, people my age claimed to have tried alcohol and were proud of it. Suddenly, they had started idolizing Devdas. Okay, that last part is fictional in my case, but might as well have been true for a lot of people. I personally couldn’t decide whether I should try it out or not, also was a little scared about what it would do to me and where I would go if something odd happened. So I never accepted the invitations, never fell victim to the peer pressure, never felt the need to imbibe. After all, so many of my punk idols were straight-edge. They don’t need it, why do I? But then again, I grew up.

Tripped Out Fact: Numerous people have died in Ahmedabad due to the immense amount of spurious liquor that is smuggled into the state due to the prohibition. Owing to the liquor worshiping in the state, this type of harmful liquor has been the cause of death of several individuals. 

A few years passed, I had already experienced the mandatory Gujarat drinking events such as, bootleggers calling you to the darkest alley possible for delivery, drinking in a rich brat’s car parked under an office building on a hot summer afternoon, innocent looking 500ml Pepsi bottle, holding “mini reunions” because someone’s apartment was empty, the clean up on the morning after, weekend drives to Rajasthan/Maharashtra/Diu, and no clean up on the morning after. I was lucky enough to travel to different parts of our country and on every such trip, the difference between the city I was in and Aapnu Amdavad would hit me in my face, the attitude towards alcohol being one to notice every time. Those cities just seemed to operate differently. The bars were exciting, and it was actually fun to put money down at the wine shop and ask for what we wanted, all hassle-free. At the same time, the possibilities of the wife-beaters, gamblers, and the sundry seemed more plausible. I was confused again, as the immense programming of my yesteryears just refused to let go. But, I was very satisfied to have been raised in an environment where alcohol was still a big deal, even though it was still a little elusive. I was happy with the status quo that it is possible to get it, but often the entire process around it is discouraging enough to want to push ‘the event’ to some other day.

What a way to ensure the ban!
What a way to ensure the ban!

Tripped Out Fact: The central government puts an excise duty up to Rs. 300 on each liquor bottle worth Rs. 500, but in Gujarat there is no excise duty and hence, all the money from the bottles sold in Gujarat, which starts from Rs. 450 per bottle, ends up in the black market. 

Then came the Gurgaon phase of my journey of rediscovering alcohol and understanding the stereotypes associated with it, which for the sake of context, was my first campus experience. It taught me the importance of holding my drink. Haryana is also one of the cheaper places to buy alcohol in India, to which all the students are very thankful. I might not have enjoyed my time there as much as I did had I not been inside the campus most of the time because how alcohol shapes living in Gurgaon, is a story in itself.

In a similar fashion of brevity, the Germany part also taught me many things about my attitude towards alcohol, which were shaped by my experiences in Ahmedabad and Gurgaon. They love their beer, even consider it an integral part of daily nutrition in some parts of the country. Public drinking is legal in the country, which means that in effect at 8 a.m. in the morning, while going to work, I could come across a group of three young boys popping open their beer bottles, raising them in a very celebratory fashion to clink and say, Prost! Sounds irresponsible right? Imagine what this level of freedom would result in if replicated in Gujarat. Let me help you by telling you what happens there. This, although a completely legal event, is a very rarely seen one. The aspect of celebration is upheld and glorified, instead of considering alcohol as a drink to lay waste to, even though German drinking parties can get pretty insane! There, a drunk person on the street is a small annoyance at his worst, certainly not a wife-beater, gambler, or any part of the sundry. Another important thing that has shaped my attitude towards alcohol is that in Germany I finally got to spend time behind the bar. Bartenders were seen as the silent heroes of a good night out with friends.  It has taught me so much more about how people drink and how they behave once under the influence. I realized that I like making people drink more than I like drinking myself. I realized people can drink and remain the same version of themselves they were before drinking.

Oktoberfest: a festival dedicated to drinking liquor in Germany
Oktoberfest: a festival dedicated to drinking liquor in Germany

And finally came my return to Gujarat again. There was a definite shift in the attitude towards alcohol. The government has acknowledged the impact the ban has on the tourism as well as the business coming into Gujarat. The norms are a little more relaxed for people who are visiting the state. The shift has echoed amongst my peers as well. Many have even figured out loopholes in the current system to get their fair share of booze for purposes, medicinal or otherwise, they might see fit. They found some ingenious, and sometimes very expensive, solutions to the perennial problem of the empty apartment. The police have caught up to them as well, on more than one front. People have gotten accustomed to car checks. The best thing that has happened though is a particular set of questions being discussed by minds saner than mine, what if the liquor ban was removed from Gujarat? Do we really need this ban? Should other states follow suit?

Is the ban existent or just an excuse for the black money to keep pouring?
Is the ban existent or just an excuse for the black money to keep pouring?

I am yet to pick a side on this, but what we need to understand is what matters more is not the substance itself, but the way people use it. As I saw on my intoxicated route through learning and understanding alcohol use in different places, there is a marked difference between places where the drink is considered as a commodity to be cherished and a commodity to be worshipped till the “second-coming” of a blackout. In places like Gurgaon, alcohol use could result in some of the famous stereotypes, while in Germany, owing to immense freedom regarding the liquid, the degree of responsibility with regards to alcohol use is quite high as well. In Ahmedabad on the other hand, the ban on alcohol has made people crave for it to a much more intense degree. Where on one hand people would consume it in a civilized manner, Amdavadis just go loose on the drink and make it a point to drink till they reach complete blackout or a puke-fest.

So I ask you, has the ban done the damage already, or will removing the ban make Ahmedabad a place where people learn to get over the almost fatal craving of alcohol? Think over it over a glass of good sherry, cheers! *clink*

Image Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

About Abhijin Asher

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