With so much religion, politics and entertainment, who needs booze?
Hotel Maurya's once popular bar in Patna now bears a deserted look since the Prohibition introduced by CM Nitish Kumar in October 2016. Pic/Mayank Shekhar
If the sales staff of Frooti in Bihar got a raise/promotion/bonus in the last financial year, I suggest they hand over some of those benefits to the state's chief minister,
Nitish Kumar. Nitish unilaterally imposed total Prohibition in Bihar in October 2016. Since then, I'm told -especially at weddings - people have had no choice but to sip booze from a thin straw over decanted, chhotu Frooti tetra-packs. Truckloads of Frootis get supplied at similar events. This is generally in line with middle India's 'hide and drink' culture anyway. I'm sorry to spill the drink. If Frootis do eventually get raided, it'd be even more terrible, but not surprising.
Months ago, at Panache, a newish hotel next to the legendary Maurya on Gandhi Maidan, a few businessmen who'd come down for a family function had ordered in glasses, ice, and soda from room service. These gents were from Gujarat, and probably knew how Prohibition works. There was a knock at the door. They expected the waiter. The receptionist had ratted on them instead. The cops had landed up inside their room. Within minutes, these fellows were all in jail. They stayed in, I'm told, for over 10 days. Imagine that frickin' holiday!
People in Patna seem unsure about exactly how long you end up in prison over a drink. But it's a non-bailable offence. You're going to the lock-up for sure. Those around you - wife, parents, friends, seen as accomplices - who're not even drinking are liable for punishment. The thought of this Taliban-like talli ban should send shivers down anyone's spine.
I'm in Patna only for a few hours -first time since Prohibition. The watering holes I knew obviously don't exist. Is a drink worth even hankering for, given so much is at stake? Yes. Leisure is a personal right, even if not fundamentally guaranteed by the Constitution. Booze is legal pretty much everywhere else, while no one has protested its abrupt absence here, perhaps for fear of being shamed for it.
Now there are two possible routes through which a simple bottle of whisky - possibly acquired through much jugaad at 300 per cent mark-up on the original price - can reach me. You could dodge the security at the hotel's main entrance, and bring the booze over to the room, placed on DND (Do Not Disturb), with similar plans chalked out for smuggling the khamba, along with the glasses, out. Exit/entry is half the bottle won. Still, even a casually whirring sound at the door could result in a minor panic attack. Can't be worth it.
The other possibility is to show up at a private parking lot, ideally of an office building, swig quick, and head back. This is far riskier. The cop on the street is apparently offered a reward of Rs 5,000 by the government for every person who fails the breath analyser test! Should I attempt it?
What do the young people do? There are none around me. Hundreds of unemployed youth - the real face of India's demographic dividend - I saw were only at the Patna airport, earlier in the evening. Holding BJP flags, they were alternately chanting, 'Har Har Mahadev', 'Vande Mataram', 'Jai Shri Ram', and 'Bharat Mataji Ki Jai,' as if to mean the same thing.
Religion mixed with politics is possibly even a stronger opiate than on its own. These boys were passing around bottles of chilled Bisleri while sprinting, shouting, and waving flags at each other. I hoped that bottle had good supply of Ecstasy in it to explain this bizarre rush of love for things that were unlikely to matter in their regular life. Or maybe they did matter.
The toniest parts of Patna, with the widest roads and roomiest homes, inevitably bear a 'sarkari' feel to them - walls whitewashed in creamish yellow, with red paints on the border - signifying therefore that the only way to genuinely make it in this town is to somehow rise up the ranks in politics (if not bureaucracy).
I asked the CISF guard if a VIP was expected at the airport. After enquiring with the crowd he was keeping a close eye on, he told me, "Some Singh, God knows who. Uddandai (for rowdiness), you can belong to any political party."
Unless this particular Singh was the gentleman called Sonu who's sponsored a massive hoarding of himself on Bailey Road, congratulating Nitish: "Aapke nirnay ko salaam. Moolyon aur siddhanton se samjhauta manjoor nahin (I salute your decision. No compromises on values and principles accepted)."
Nitish had stepped down from the CM's chair (from one political alliance), before taking oath right the next day as CM (from another group)! The noise outside my hotel room, well past midnight, celebrating this love triangle - Nitish, Lalu Prasad, Narendra Modi - seemed like entertainment that would beat Bollywood any day.
Yeah, I really could do with a drink. Did I eventually land one? How does it matter? With so much fear and anxiety within, and jubilation and buzz outside, the whisky wouldn't have hit me anyway.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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