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The bottled demon threatening India

The bottled demon uses many tricks to trap victims, including illegal proxy alcohol advertising.

Raja Murthy | Mumbai |


Quitting alcohol good for your mental health, says study’, publications worldwide reported on July 8 – though why anyone needs a ‘study’ to reach that most obvious conclusion is a mystery that would have baffled Sherlock Holmes if he was still in 221B Baker Street.

Alcohol consumption kills 2.5 million people annually, destroys more lives and families through alcoholics beating up family members, causes fatal road accidents and instigates unthinkable crimes like drunken fathers raping their own daughters – and we have idiocy bordering on insanity with alcohol makers advertising such messages as “Drink Responsibly”.

Since over 60 different diseases are also linked to alcohol consumption, that lunatic message can be changed to “Drink Poison Responsibly”.

For me, alcohol is the deviously cunning, bottled demon that enters life as an “enjoyment”, and then gradually handicaps, harms and ruins lives. I had my sometimes embarrassing personal dealings with alcohol, from beer to hard liquor, during my “social drinking” days 25 years ago. It ended forever when the absolutely mandatory qualification to sit my first Vipassana long course of 20-days (to 60-days) is abstinence from intoxicating substances for a minimum of two years. That abstinence was made easier because I can never forget how my father let this bottled demon destroy his life and his family, self-destructed a brilliant career as an industrialist. As a journalist, I have seen too often how intoxication destabilizes minds and dehumanizes people.

This bottled alcohol demon is slowly taking over India, the country already being the third largest alcohol market in the world (US$ 48.8 billion in 2018-2019). Annual alcohol consumption in India increases at a frightening 38 per cent, despite costing more each year with taxes. Think about it objectively and consuming alcohol appears as one of humanity’s most illogical, irrational habits. Why would anyone pay good money for alcohol (Henri IV Dudognon Heritage Cognac costs $2 million!) for what essentially is a corrosive liquid damaging body and mind? And all alcohol – barring champagne due to its fizz – smells horrible, tastes worse and gets facetiously celebrated as an “acquired taste”. We might as well “acquire” taste to guzzle a bottle of gum or ink – less expensive and definitely less harmful.

Even more peculiarly – in a shining example of how ‘civilized’ society readily embraces poison as nectar – “appreciation” of booze gets perceived as cultural evolution and a high point of having “arrived” to afford the “good” things of life. Factually, it’s a perversion of the good life. In alcohol, we see the demonic version of a mindless pseudo-culture, of an increasing tribe with seriously warped, half-witted ideas of enjoyment of life. So we have otherwise very intelligent, successful and rational people, sniffing and sipping vintage wine or scotch whisky, rolling their tongues and gushing words of “appreciation” of a fermented poison, when in bare-knuckled reality it would be safer to “appreciate” a bottle of phenol or hydrochloric acid.

At worse, carelessness with a bathroom cleaning fluid or a dangerous laboratory liquid can admit us to hospital or even the obituary news – to me, a much better option than the shameful risks of a mind losing control of what to say or do, and often doing things that cause lifelong damage. Statistics should be publicized on unspeakable crimes committed due to intoxication. Drugs may be worse, but the average person cannot easily buy cocaine or marijuana. Not so alcohol, now infiltrating forbidden regions as in the serene Himalayan town of Rishikesh, northern India, where I have spent much beneficial time for more than 10 years.

Indian army subsidized alcohol is destroying alcohol-forbidden places like Tapovan area of Rishikesh, with armed forces canteen-sourced liquor feeding the thriving local black market. Here we have another insane peculiarity of the Indian government – or the taxpayer – subsidizing hundreds or thousands of crores of rupees every year to give our jawans and officers cheaper alcohol.

Do India’s armed forces gain their courage from a bottle? Hopefully not – and so end the ridiculous governmental alcohol subsidy to the defense forces, a foolish subsidy now threatening good health, careers, families not just in the armed forces but in unique places like Rishikesh with black marketing of booze bottles. Some of my good friends in Rishikesh are consuming more alcohol now than a decade ago. I don’t want them to ruin their successful careers and family life like my father did.

The bottled demon is taking over more lives, and I write this wishing that more people gain freedom from this cunning devil in liquid form. The urgency was multiplied yesterday when I saw my friend’s 25-year old daughter studying in Australia adding “drinks” as first in her list of “activities”.

The bottled demon uses many tricks to trap victims, including illegal proxy alcohol advertising. Booze brands are being brazenly advertised as soda water and other innocuous products, as during the current cricket World Cup telecast in India.

Unfortunately, leading youth icons like cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli – the shining example of supreme fitness – surrender to monetary greed and promote alcohol through proxy advertising. I request compassionate, sober judges serving India’s courts to crack down on proxy alcohol advertising. The central government must ban promotion of products with name same or similar to alcohol brands. In pathetic, tragic irony, India increasingly celebrates bottled demons. This strikes me painfully every time I step out of the immigration area of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, and immediately walk into brightly lit hills of expensive alcohol bottles and mounds of imported cigarettes.

In effect, this is the miserable message from one of the world’s best airports: “welcome to the land of Mahatma Gandhi and to the national capital airport carrying part of his name, to our first gloriously greeting sight of Incredible India: booze bottles. Drink, gradually ruin your mind, your liver, gain cancer and other deadly diseases – and do enjoy your stay in the land of the Buddha. “ In the most ridiculous of ironies, people say “cheers” before glugging in a glass of insidious poison. Exorcise this disguised insanity, this bottled demon from your life, in anyone’s life, before it’s too late.

The writer is a senior, Mumbai-based journalist.