‘I wonder what I’ll do now,’ wailed a grizzled Begusarai resident, sorrowfully downing his Patiala peg. We were sitting in ‘The Jolly Bhumihar’, one of the bars that brighten the city of Begusarai in Bihar, ruminating on the prospect of prohibition in the state.
‘You see,’ explained the veteran, ‘the only way to make Begusarai bearable is to see it through an alcoholic haze. Without the glow imparted by copious amounts of booze, how on earth could anyone live in this hole?’
‘I welcome the ban,’ said a political tippler to general consternation amidst murmurs of ‘Traitor’, ‘Backstabber’ and ‘Nitish-ist’, although most of them had great trouble pronouncing the last one. The tippler took a large swig of his rum and coke before explaining, ‘Prohibition will lead to the folks here coming out of their drunken stupor and see the place for the dump it is. It will make for a politically conscious, though grumpy, citizenry.’
‘Nonsense,’ protested an alcoholic. He said the plan to impose prohibition in Bihar was part of a devilishly clever pact between Mulayam and Nitish for the UP elections. ‘The idea,’ he said, ‘is to ensure good business for the border areas in Uttar Pradesh, as hordes of Biharis flock there for their booze. These places will benefit from an alcohol-induced boom.’ The upshot, he added, knocking back a whisky and soda, would be a grateful populace voting Mulayam back to power.
A vodka guzzler rubbished the alcoholic’s view. ‘The ban on booze is a classic example of rising intolerance,’ he said, amidst shouts of ‘Hear, hear’ and ‘Shtopthishintoleransh’. He swigged some vodka before continuing, ‘This ban is all the more mystifying, because booze is vegetarian.’ An angry tippler pointed out patriotically that neither Chandragupta Maurya nor Ashoka had banned booze. A henpecked drinker said both Mrs Chandragupta and Mrs Ashoka were broad-minded enough to support their husbands’ boozing and probably liked a few pegs themselves.
A Bloody Mary aficionado said the move had the potential to repair India-Nepal relations. ‘The purpose,’ he slurred, ‘is to help the Madhesis in Nepal, who will get business as thirsty Biharis rush to Nepal for booze.’
‘It’s a policy measure aimed at encouraging cottage industry,’ said a drunk economist. ‘Hundreds of thousands of home distilleries will spring up, while booze-making skills will spread to all segments of the population.’ He said it was part of the state government’s ‘Make in Bihar’ and ‘Skill Bihar’ initiatives. He repeated ‘boozh-making skillsh’ several times before falling asleep.
‘It’s the Gujarat model,’ said a gin-swilling businessman from Gujarat proudly. ‘Every paan shop will soon be stocking illicit booze, just like in Gujarat and the neighbourhood bootlegger will be your closest pal,’ he boasted, fondly displaying a picture of his bootlegger.
That was when the bartender started handing out cards and free chillums. ‘If you guys are thinking of a nice, safe alternative, far better than alcohol, that soothes the nerves and calms the soul, here’s the address where you get the best marijuana,’ he said.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed are personal