Enough to drive you to drink

March 1st, 201110:29 am @

No beer today. Image courtesy of Flickr user gniliep.

No beer today. Image courtesy of Flickr user gniliep.

In his book, The Theory And Practice Of Travel, Keith Waterhouse observes that nothing quite makes one feel like an alcoholic as the no-man’s land between drinks trolleys on a flight. I’d add to that forgetting about “dry days” in India.

Pretty much any public holiday or religious festival in the country is a dry day, meaning you can’t get a drink for love nor money. Actually, money can get you a drink, although that involves a five-star hotel or a bootlegger; neither of which are always convenient. Forgetting that a day is dry, especially if it’s two in a row over a weekend or during an election campaign – yes, they’re dry as well, and convoluted – leads to the aforementioned sense of a dependence on alcohol. “How the feck can I get through the weekend without a beer!”

Coming from a country where it would be almost unconstitutional to ban alcohol on a day of celebration, the concept of dry partying is an odd one.  After all, Australia’s first and only coup d’état was over the control of the fledgling colony’s rum supply, when the aptly nicknamed Rum Corps overthrew Bligh (he of the Bounty fame) when he dared interfere in the nice little booze monopoly the soldiers had established.

Forgetting about a dry day is only slightly worse than remembering the night before and dashing down to the nearest wine and beer store to stock up.  These are usually a counter in front of a storeroom full of domestic beer and whisky with a crush of people desperately waving rupee notes at the guys behind the counter. It’s like the floor of a stock exchange during a plunge in the market, but with less cocaine and fewer criminals.

When we first moved to Delhi the only nearby options for buying booze were two government-run stores in a local market. Dim and grimy, they stank of desperation and despair – if they’re looking for a set for Saw XXII, a government-run alcohol shop in Delhi would be perfect.

Changes, however, are afoot. A number of stores selling everything from domestic beers to imported single malts have sprung up over the past year in the city’s shopping malls. Brightly lit, clean and with a wide range of drinks, they’re the antithesis of the standard government-run emporium. The good thing is that since alcohol prices are regulated, you pay no more for shopping in them than you do in the horror film sets.

Local grocery stores are getting in on the act as well. Our two regular supermarkets have recently started stocking wine and beer. Life is so much richer when you can pop a few bottles of German beer into your basket along with the muesli and scouring pads. As they say, it’s the little things.

This is having a flow-on effect to the dingy outlets, who are cleaning – and brightening – up their acts. Of the two that we used to frequent, the more grim store has closed down, while the other has definitely seen the light and is stocking a wider range and remodelling its interior. The last time I was in there I even spotted a few Delhi princesses, a sure sign that conditions are improving.


Front-page image courtesy of Nikhil Verma.

Image above courtesy of gniliep.


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