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Bad Indians drink whisky

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes on the love-hate relationship of Indians with liquor

The headline is by now a flawed but populist narrative, the chaotic frenzy for available-again liquor damning even the social drinker. India has always exhibited a queer socialistic stance towards alcohol, hypocritical at every peg of analysis. While it is painlessly easy to unleash hard opinion to support the friendliness of hard drinks.

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My story must begin from the bars of history, evidently a western influence like so much else. Maharajahs and the pukka sahibs savoured their scotch and soon bureaucrats and corporates emulated this practice, like the Saville Row suit or that flighty turn of phrase. So, it became a defining part of exclusive culture, with one damning caveat though. Western liquor and its half-breed cousin the IMFL never disconnected from the stigma of desi brews — linked direly to crassness, penury and abuse. A job done much better by cigarettes vis-à-vis bidi, please consider this comment purely from a positioning lens.

So, while in truth a sophisticated indulgence, war-weary ladies decreed otherwise, the bottle becoming the most forbidden of all fruits. Thus, initiating a culture of subversive consumption, in the lounge-like backseats of the Ambassador and, of course, the rickety bar serving crotchety accompanists. To blame surely was the excess of the upgraders for whom consumption was a route to escapism and not uplift, drunken reveries ruining the civil narrative. Unless influenced directly by occidental elegance, most of us disregarded the effluence of the social drink, as a prop for an evening and not an evening that needed props to return home.

In tandem with this portrait was a certain public-face morality peculiar to India, abstinence connected unfairly to virtue. While history suggested blatantly that Hitler was both vegetarian and teetotaller, his deeds were surely not exemplary. The politician got away with fiscal corruption but if caught with a drink would face electoral wrath, film actors famously consuming in cola bottles. Family elders would pretend to be lemonade fiends during weekends while swearing tearful allegiance to Old Monk in office encounters. Alcohol was indeed the mistress of the piece, a delight when invisible while a virus when detected.

So, if a gentleman is enjoying a tipple during the first corona war, named in historical pattern, he is considered an anti-national gherkin. Granted, certainly, that his behaviour during queues was rather unruly, but yours would be as well if a lovable indulgence was denied for a month. Banish the supply of paneer in Gujarat or rohu in Bengal for as long and see how the fans behave — the liquor lines will seem like kindergarten choir groups. Deny a lady access to her Netflix content for a week and see how she responds upon resumption — the world wide web will crash in moments.

Issue is thus about perspective — alcohol is fiercely navigating a tightrope between sin and grin, arbitration no longer a luxury. That humungous sum charged by a multiplex for a desolate cola outweighs by far the price of a pleasing lager, yet the former is marketing and the latter an infringement. When mutton cross the four-figure mark, the expense is justified but when a scotch demands an equitable sum, everybody has a point of puke. A petty pasta at a puny diner can charge the moon, but the cost of wine merits nasty censure. Those who believe, owe it to India to change perceptions, act we must and right now.

For starters, the entire category demands a recasting, for which many must come out of the closet. By many I actually mean the few who influence, those least expected to tipple must begin the ripple. The modern new-age politician must own up as much as the revered age-old physician, their crafts enhanced by the restrained embrace. While the legal eagle must present a case for conspicuous adoption, a nip can never be adjourned. Professors, journalists, health workers, corporators and the world at large must act like brave adults and not acceding children — just a like a condom is a responsible Instrument of indulgence, so is the two-peg-a-day routine, make no mistake. Just as we are breaking barriers in same-sex marriage, dowry and other grievous anomalies, the truth on alcohol consumption must be out. No better advocates than the most unlikely suspects, citizens in their prime of influence who enjoy an accountable drink.

Two other matters must be addressed, pronto if I may insist. Yes, civilised alcohol is expensive but so is organic produce, fashion apparel, holiday travel, the SUV and the salon service. So, let us not use cost of acquisition as a tool to judge societally responsible consumption — equally ‘under-important’ products and services demand more from the family exchequer. Unhappy though it may sound, this is a category for the affluent like so much else, ungainly typecasting will unfurl a hornet’s nest. Equally, this industry is a serious revenue and employment generator — development schemes can be funded by the seemingly-pariah incomes. Exactly why a combination of consumer education and mass appreciation can restore its dignity and efficacy— as an additive and not detractor to living.

The single most opportunity for the liquor trade is to be seriously seen as popular culture and not disruptive destroyer. For this to happen, we need to mobilise the potency of the role model citizen, with earnest sincerity and inspirational wisdom. Every good Indian, unless disabled by circumstantial or medical conditions, and not just the bad boys must enjoy their whisky without fear of censure.  A small but significant step in the evolution of our maturity — as a nation, an economy and a society.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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