Alcohol kills. In fact, it is the mother of all killer vices. It kills slowly, silently, in decaying evolution everyday, not only the alcoholic but also those around him
Born into a poor family of 8, studied up to the third grade in a government school, discontinued studies after attaining puberty at 13, married to a daily wage labourer at 14, first child at 15, second child at 16, third child at 17, husband turns into an alcoholic, gets thrashed regularly by husband, has more stitches in the head and face than bones in her body at 18, widowed at 19 as husband dies of alcoholic cirrhosis, turns into a domestic help at 20, still working from dawn to dusk everyday in multiple houses, earning a meagre income and looking after her children at 21 ...
This probably is the story in a nutshell of your domestic help or maid. This is the story of all housemaids I have had in three different States. A few months ago, we moved to a new place and as we were settling down, a woman came to our doorstep, asking if we needed a housemaid. I was rather stricken at her appearance. Frail and miserable looking, thin as a stick with just a layer of skin around her skeletal frame, she did not seem the kind who was capable of any work.
I hired her, however, and she has been helping me with domestic chores. She is a widow in eternal doubt. Seven years ago, her husband, after turning into an alcoholic, abandoned her one fine day. Since then, she has been juggling jobs at four houses everyday, looking after her kids and, the worst of it all, living in a pathetic uncertainity as to the fate of her husband. For there can never be closure unless he is found, dead or alive!
She has absolutely no background, no degree, no wealth, no house of her own, no job security, no vacation, nothing! She has never seen the Statue of Liberty… never even heard of it, never read an Enid Blyton, never ridden in a car and never stepped into a 5-star hotel ... all luxuries we take for granted as part of every day life. She is a fine example of “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” From the very first day I have found her to be a remarkably honest human being and a woman of great integrity and character, besides being extremely smart and knowledgeable about household matters.
Housemaid par excellence
For one, she is on the dot everyday. And once she is in the house, she gets on with her work with all sincerity and does a thorough job, whether I am watching or not. Her children are growing up and their needs are more, so last month she asked me if I could give her more work. I told her I had no problem giving her a raise and was rather stunned by her reply. She said she did not want a raise if she was doing the same job but rather wanted her workload increased to be paid more!
Wow! So I offered her a job that was being done by another person at that moment. Though the money would do her good, she refused as this would mean stealing somebody else’s job and causing him a loss of job!
Wow! Folks! I do believe this woman would have made it big in the world had she continued her studies and married at a more appropriate age. But if you ask her what really went wrong, her quick reply would be, “It’s the bottle that did all the damage. We were happy, until he started drinking.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. Today, drinking is taking a devastating toll on family life in so many homes in India. A chronological look at accident deaths and crimes committed will reveal that consumption of alcohol has been the root cause. In modern societies, many people claim they are not binge alcoholics and are in absolute control of the intake and intoxication level. But in reality what starts off as ‘just a casual beer in hostel’ or ‘just social drinking at an office party’ eventually leads to alcoholism, breaks up a family and shatters peace at home. Opening the door to a drunken husband and getting beaten up every night is a curse for so many women and children today. I ask myself, “Is that the life a woman was born to live? Certainly no!”
Sadly, it is not just the lower stratum of society but also the elite, learned and educated world that is a prisoner to alcoholism. The beginning and end of events like launching a ship, winning a game, getting a job, completion of projects, bachelor’s parties, office parties, club parties are all marked by the participants hitting the bottle. To say that the government is taking an uncompromising stand against drinking is only a travesty of truth as all the Army, Navy, Air Force, police, railway and administrative services have recreational parties where liquor is served in surplus! The saddest of them all is seeing medical professionals and doctors getting drunk at conferences despite knowing full well about the ill-effects of alcoholism.
It is a shame. I do believe that a number of youngsters, especially in college and hostel settings, are influenced by cinema and hence I do not understand the callous attitude of the film industry in dealing with this killer vice. For many years, movies portrayed only villains sporting a glass of alcohol in the hand and the censor board ensured that there was a scroll of statutory warning against drinking at the bottom of the screen at least in small print. But recent movies have even the most macho heroes drinking after a silly and minor quarrel with the heroine. Things get worse if the heroine forsakes him or dies. The hero immediately turns into an alcoholic, acts like a foolish clown in the inebriated state and waits for the second heroine to rescue him from the addiction with her love! After a crisis, a hero is always shown hitting the bottle with his friends, whereas, the distressed heroine is shown running to a god and crooning a melancholic song.
Having come from a family of teetotallers, I say this with a lot of faith and conviction. It is possible to have a good time, enjoy life and be extremely happy without an alcoholic drink. It is also possible for college students and officers to stand up to peer pressure and say ‘no’ to drinking. In my family, my father set the example himself. He was perhaps the most ideal candidate to become an alcoholic, having lost his father at a very young age, having to shoulder family responsibilities without any financial backing, living as a bachelor alone for many years and having served in government service. But he never look to the bottle. My mother often recounts a party where every officer got drunk and there was tremendous pressure on my father to drink too by his boss. He was ridiculed as being “afraid of the Mrs.”, “unmanly”, “anti-social,” etc. But my father would not succumb to the temptation. I know that day, he made my mother very proud and happy for, he was really the only man in that party, courageous enough to stand up for his principles.
If only my housemaid’s husband had stood up and said ‘no’, in the very first instance, she would have had a chance of a better life. Alcohol kills. In fact, it is the mother of all killer vices. It kills slowly, silently, in decaying evolution everyday, not only the alcoholic but also those around him. In the last two decades, I myself have attended the funeral of two doctors, aged 23, who died in the prime of life, meeting with accidents under the influence of alcohol. Their parents, who should have been really proud of their sons, are inconsolable today.
Ask a man dying of alcoholism in his deathbed or a man whose wife and children died as a result of his drunken driving what he would have liked to do differently in his life. Be not surprised to get the same answer in regret, that he would have liked to stay away from alcohol. “If only I had not been reckless and not taken that first drink ...”
I wish that everyone of my countrymen march out in whirlwind campaign and take a joint stand against hitting the bottle and that he would hit the bottle……..out! Then, there will be happier, more secure and peaceful families. Above all, women and children will live free of fear and my country will be truly free.
(Dr. Satya Sudhir is an architect. Her email: email@example.com)