Some weeks ago, I was walking back home around 9 in the evening. There is quite a lot of construction work going on near my house and the labourers were settling down for the night. Suddenly, from one of the temporary shelters, a woman ran out onto the road screaming loudly. Behind her hobbled her lord and master carrying a big stick and dead drunk. I hurried home a sense of futility hanging over me. How many times would the same scene be played out and in how many homes! What can the police do, what can anyone do?

By coincidence, the very next day, when I opened the paper, I found that our newly elected Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was planning to do something about the problem — he felt that quality liquor should be distributed at subsidised prices to the poor.

Well, if that was a sentiment with the next major election in mind, he had better watch out, for at election time the beneficiaries having got used to “quality liquor” would definitely not settle for anything less than a bottle or two of Scotch! And, after that, it is doubtful if they would even be aware of whom they are voting for! Consider the alternative — if he could by hook or by crook, manage to stop the outflow of liquor completely, the Chief Minister would be assured of the vote of every woman in Karnataka. Which, in aggregate, would be more than those of all the drunks put together.

Is this a completely untenable idea? After all, hasn’t prohibition failed miserably everywhere? Gandhiji may be the father of the nation, but everyone knows he is just a statue now and needn’t be taken seriously. And what about our freedom of choice, our right to posh ‘social drinking’? We have the RTI. So we have the right to know and make informed choices — to drink illicit liquor if we are poor, beer if we are on an allowance, whiskey if we are upwardly mobile and scotch if we are dons, especially if we are the dons in films.

When Anna Hazare said something about drunks being tied up and beaten, there was a hue and cry which cut across political boundaries. Well, Anna is comparatively mild, so as to speak. In Iran, I hear, a person caught drunk for the third time is strung up on a lamp post and the problem is solved once and for all. No messy brawls, no wives with broken noses and black eyes, no children huddled terrorised in corners scarred for life. Consider that in Islamic countries where liquor is strictly forbidden, the turmoil of alcoholism is absent. Neither is anyone dying of alcohol deprivation.

We read of villages which have come out of abyssmal conditions to become prosperous and healthy; almost everywhere the first step has been the communities joining together to root out illicit liquor and alcoholism. Maybe, our Chief Minister should take the advice of the leaders of these communities. In addition to putting the brakes on wild schemes involving liquor he could, perhaps, also put the brakes on granting of bar and liquor licences the left, right and centre.

In Bangalore, even if the roads are deserted late at night, the bars and liquor shops are crowded. With riff raff-rich and poor, educated and uneducated. And there are bars everywhere.

Remember the old joke?

This is not Bangalore, this is Bar-galore!

(The writer’s email: annerosemerymartis@gmail.com)

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