People wait in queue to buy liquor from a store in Delhi, May 04, 2020 (Photo: Getty Images)
The addicts—denied of their daily dosage—were no less desperate than the migrants in search of their destination. After lying low on spirits, high times retuned on fourth of May. Many regular drinkers had experienced the longest dry-spell of their lifetime in the mean-time. On fourth morning, they were standing on a brink. Some of them had queued-up at night with a shimmering hope. Others joined the ambitious line of optimism, early or late in the morning. As if, on the other side of the shutter, there was an oasis of desire—a grand reward of relief after such a prolonged period of abstinence.
Once the shutters of liquor shops were rolled up, the liquor retailers witnessed the long line-of-lack-of-control. While driving past the liquor shops in Greater Noida, I saw the length of the long-wait—extending up to hundreds of meters, and increasing. Two to three constables were posted to man and manage the unruly hang-outs that would defy all norms of physical distancing. Scorching heat tested their patience further. Anxious customers used all kinds of surfaces to shield themselves from the biting sun that acted like a pinch of salt on the existing wound of compulsive self-restrain. In several places across the country, as the booze flowed, chaos followed. Police had to intervene to enforce distancing, or to instruct a close-down, or to shoo away the dry-souls.
The ache of dry-run, the strain of non-spirited refrain, and the discomfort due to lack of availability of alcohol cannot be understood by occasional drinkers, let alone non-drinkers. It is a must-have for all those who have normalized consumption of a quarter or half-a-bottle, every evening. Only a chalked-out de-addiction plan can rescue them from the cycle of dependency and a heightened urge of temptation. A forceful deficiency due to lock-down can increase the yearning further.
Therefore, the promise of availability triggered a mad rush that was strong enough to flout all the distancing norms. Craving for one peg was pressing enough to forego one-meter distancing. Waiting for hours was lot more gratifying than waiting for weeks in between for supplies to resume. In a strange way and in an unwanted manner, alcohol was breeding proximity and bringing people up-close on the fourth morning—making the masses shed their fears and inhibitions, long before drinking began. After days of concealed withdrawal-symptoms, mass-methanol-bliss was acting out there in the open. Trembling hands have done their bit. Now it was time for the tired legs to withstand the long-wait for a few more hours. The last stage was to enter the striking zone of the counter and get hold of the much-awaited spirits of getting high. Being in the zone, tipsiness and good sleep after a month and a half would follow thereafter.
An alcohol enthusiastic and a friend was appalled by such a queued outbreak. Reporting from the line-of-lack-of-control, he was confident about his observations: “Most of the people standing in the line are hoarders and black-marketers. I can bet that very few of them are connoisseurs. Look at what the quantity of bottles they are picking up and the cheaper brands they are purchasing, so that they can sell it at an inflated price, in case the prizes increase, or if the liquor shops shut down again. Why can’t the government set up per head limits?”
Well, why would any revenue-hungry government do so after several weeks of suffered losses due to suspended economic activities? At the end of May 4, Uttar Pradesh—a state that hosts one fifth of the country’s population—sold over Rs 100 core on the opening day. Delhi did not want to miss out on the opportunity to capitalize even though the purchasing power of the common man must have dipped. It decided to charge seventy percent over and above the MRP through ‘special corona fee’ to make up for its financial losses during the lockdown.
On May, the fourth, alcohol achieved a certain political and economic recognition even in the times of a global crisis. Somebody’s loss is somebody’s gain, after all. There has been a long affiliation between mass-addiction and state-revenue, anyway. Alcohol and tobacco are seriously injurious to health, but they are certainly beneficial for boosting earnings—and one of the most certain and obvious ways of doing so. It is not a matter of coincidence that alcohol availability cut across the color-codes and zonal divisions of current corona-status in the country. Though it is another matter, if liquor-gatherings like these will contribute to convert green into orange and orange into red zones in near future.