‘Young people in Mumbai are saying you’ve done a very silly thing by raising the age limit for buying alcohol to 25. They’re saying if they can get married and vote before 25, why can’t they get drunk?’ I asked the minister.
“Also, you can start working immediately after school and everyone knows working is far more injurious to health than alcohol,” I added.
The minister extracted two glasses and a bottle of Laphroaig from his desk. “For mulling over that tough question,” he said, “we need nothing less than a single malt,” as he poured out two stiff ones.
“You see,” he continued after a few meditative sips, “the mind of a young person is innocent, uncorrupted. We must keep it that way.”
“What has the mind got to do with boozing?” I asked shrewdly, my brain sharpened by the Scotch.
“Also the liver,” said the minister, “it’s our duty to protect young and innocent livers.”
I pointed out it’s the older livers that need protection.
“Older livers too,” said the minister hastily, “We could pass a law that anybody over 50 who buys a drink will compulsorily have to buy Liv 52.” “Or we could leave single malts out of it,” he added, gazing fondly into his drink.
“But you are right,” the minister continued, “there’s an inconsistency in keeping the voting and marriage age limit below the legal age for drinking. The solution is very simple — we must raise the legal age for getting a job to 30, for marrying to 35 and for voting to 40.”
I was so startled I knocked back my peg and poured myself another large one. “It’s going to put off young people even more,” I warned the minister. He claimed it wouldn’t, pointing out that Anna Hazare, a modern youth icon, supported public flogging for tipplers in his village and even banned non-vegetarian food.
“In fact,” said the minister, “I, too, would like to ensure the young are exposed to non-veg food only gradually. We can have a law that says a kid can’t have onions before he is, say, 15. Garlic will be allowed at 18, eggs at 21, fish at 25, chicken at 30, mutton at 35.” “Beef and pork will of course be banned due to our pseudo-nationalist and pseudo-secular sensitivities,” he added.
I took a sip of the Laphroaig before asking, “What about, um, frog’s legs?”
“Good question,” agreed the minister, promising he would set up a committee to study it.
As I came out of the minister’s room, I met an opposition MLA, to whom I related what the minister had just told me. “The silly fool doesn’t realise the drinking age limit is higher than the marriage one for a perfectly valid reason,” he expostulated. “It’s only after you’re married a few years that you start needing the booze,” he explained, dropping his voice to a whisper and adding that you never know when she might overhear.
“Who?”I asked. “My wife, of course,” snapped the MLA before scuttling away.
Outside the secretariat, a vast sea of young people was on a hunger strike, with only liquid refreshment allowed. Sitting under a giant banner that read, “Under- 25 drinkers of Mumbai unite, you have nothing to lose but your booze,” some of the protesters drank rum and Coke, others vodka and orange juice, while the leaders had tequilas and mojitos. And as the minister came out of his office, a slightly slurred but revolutionary cry of “Viva alcohol” rent the air, striking terror into the heart of the establishment.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint. The views expressed by the author are personal.