When he came for Venugopal, I remained silent, because I am not Venugopal. When he ranted against Shah Rukh Khan, I said nothing, because I am not an SRK fan. When he went after the smokers, I kept quiet, because I am no longer a smoker. But now that he’s targeting boozers, it’s time to stand up against the fascists.
Consider, first, the economic argument. A few decades ago, during my stay in Calcutta, after a good day at the races we used to joyfully take a cab from the race course to our favourite watering hole in Park Street and whoop it up with lots of rum. On bad days, after counting our losses dejectedly, we used to trudge morosely from the race course to the watering hole and drown our sorrows in copious quantities of vodka. In short, the liquor industry is one of the few recession-proof industries we have and it’s a bulwark of solidity during these difficult times.
But the big attraction of booze lies in its ability to stimulate the intellect. Where would world literature be without its famous alcoholics, men like Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, James Joyce etc? All the post-modernist texts read like they have been assiduously built on a foundation of hard liquor. On the other hand, the man most closely approximating Ramadoss’ ideal type would be none other than Adolf Hitler. World War 2 was in fact nothing but a fight between the Ramadossian forces, led by the non-smoking, vegetarian, teetotaller Hitler and the forces of freedom led by the meat-eating, cigar-chewing, brandy-swilling Winston Churchill.
We all know who won that fight, because boozing fosters a sense of courage and adventure. During a stint in Darjeeling, I used to be partial to a local brandy called Gold Star, which was not only very cheap, but also had another excellent virtue — a total lack of quality control. As a result, you had no means of knowing whether one peg of the stuff would be enough to zonk you, or whether you could finish the entire bottle without any effect whatsoever. The net result was that every evening was an adventure. One never knew what was coming next. I’m sure a similar beverage must have steeled Churchill’s will and bolstered his courage, enabling him to thrash Ramadoss, err... sorry, Hitler.
I would be the first to acknowledge, though, that boozing has sometimes led to marital discord. All too often does the husband go bingeing with his cronies, leaving the wife fuming at home. But the obvious solution is not for the husband to stop drinking. Instead, all he has to do is go to the wine shop, buy a bottle and come home to the wife. That will so impress the lady that not only will she welcome him with a smile, but she will also get two glasses and pour out the drinks both for her husband and for herself. And if this becomes a habit, not only will it be less expensive than drinking at a bar, but peace and sweetness will reign in the home, interspersed with snatches of song.
Finally, of course, we come to the all-important question about the health of the boozer. It’s true that some of us have regrettably had health problems. Returning to Darjeeling after a long time, I was stunned when a friend told me that quite a few of my drinking companions had kicked the bucket, affected by strange nervous diseases or cirrhosis of the liver. I was wondering what on earth could have caused so many untimely deaths when I was told that all of them, without exception, used to have peanuts with their booze. My friend pointed out sorrowfully that he had tried to dissuade them from having those killer peanuts, but they were addicted to the stuff and wouldn’t listen. So there you are, Anbumani Ramadoss, you have your work cut out for you. Rather than try and curb wholesome drinking, it’s high time you banned peanuts instead.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint