Fatalities on the road are caused more by impatience, ineptitude, carelessness, recklessness and fatigue than by intoxication.

Three kilos of Bangalore Blue grapes are slowly fermenting in the outsized pickle-jar in my kitchen. As I, a first-time winemaker, perform my ritual of stirring the yeasty, saccharine concoction with a long, wooden spoon, I mull over the recently announced plan to suspend the licence of even a first-time offender caught driving under the influence. Do I need a licence to brew? Will drinking my brew cause you to lose your licence? Such are the questions that wash over my brain as the spoon knocks against the raw potato and the bundle of broken wheat and spices sloshing about in the jar. (See, I’ve already given you most of the recipe; if you want the rest it’s going to cost you.)

After conducting a quick taste-test on the liquid (purely to check its daily progress, you understand) I close the jar, open the pages of this daily, and what do I find? A picture of a traffic cop dressed as Yama the god of death, brandishing a mace as gods tend to do, looming behind his uniformed colleague who’s conducting a breathalyser test on a driver. The point of the fancy dress parade was to impress upon you that drinking and driving might deprive you of not only your licence but also your life. I’m a little sceptical about such attempts to drum road sense into people’s minds. Members of the public know full well that they must follow traffic rules, wear helmets, drink responsibly and so on, so as not to endanger themselves and others. It’s not the knowledge but the will that’s lacking. Fatalities on the road are caused more by impatience, ineptitude, carelessness, recklessness and fatigue than by intoxication.

The drive against drunk driving has been accelerating in recent years. But I would love to know, of all the thousands of riders and drivers the cops have checked till date, how many were suicidal, homicidal maniacs and how many fulfilled their true purpose of enhancing the fortunes of the traffic department? In other countries the police spot and track dangerous drivers, who can be easily recognised by their erratic movements. Our cops choose to flag down a random series of peacefully moving vehicles and line up their drivers for testing, on the off chance that some of them might have ‘crossed the limit’ and could be milked for a fine. They lie in wait not only at strategic locations on weekends but also in unpredictable corners of the city on any night of the week, and if you thought you could avoid the main roads, why, there they are, lurking in the bylanes, ready to pounce on you! When the cop thrusts his face towards yours and orders you to breathe into a tube you’d better hope that (a) your blood alcohol content shows the right percentage, and (b) the tube hasn’t been tampered with in an attempt to alter the readings. If you’re guilty he’ll sequester both your licence and your vehicle and you’ll have to take an auto or a taxi, which is what you should have done in the first place if you knew you were going to have a couple. The ‘designated driver’ method doesn’t work because nobody, whether spouse or buddy, wants to be the sacrificial lamb.

I do not wish to underplay the lethal side of liquor, the driver who’s blotto, the speedster who imagines he’s Double-Oh-Seven, careening wildly, crushing sleeping people or crashing into medians. What I’m saying is that how one drinks, and how much, distinguishes the partygoer from the potential killer. And while the former lot become scapegoats the latter usually manage to evade the police net, which is how we get to hear about the ghastly accidents they cause. That being said, responsible drinking is hard to practise because tipplers are rarely able to resist one for the road. Of the many myths that booze attracts, the most famous is that fable, that outrageous fairytale called “just one drink”. Another myth is that “beer is like a soft drink”. Not if you’ve had too many. How about “Indians cannot hold their drink”? Wait, it sounds like a cliché but I suspect it’s no myth. Just consider the vast number of Indians who drink only to get drunk. Instead of nursing a drink they attack it as if it were their bitterest enemy. Drinking, for them, is not a relaxing affair but an excuse to drown their woes or release pent-up aggression. They are the ones who give drink a bad name.

I wonder how many glasses of wine one would have to imbibe before it registered on the alcometer. Wine is the most respectable of the family of liquors, of which arrack is the black sheep. It is interesting how the many variants of alcohol are graded according to class and culture. He’s a true connoisseur, he knows his wine and his whiskey: how sophisticated! He goes to the local toddy shop: what a shame! Well, both are equally capable of ending up in the gutter if they overdo it.

Instead of playing Yamaraj the traffic cops should follow up another of their plans: to suspend the licences of those who drive while speaking on the mobile phone. Now this is a move that I heartily approve.

(Send your feedback tockmeena@gmail.com)