A liquor shop in Delhi | Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg
A liquor shop in Delhi | Prashanth Vishwanathan | Bloomberg
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Monday saw a large number of Indians welcome ‘relaxed’ lockdown 3.0 in high spirits. Forty days of social distancing training was clearly not enough to keep them away from the second-most important alcohol-based mixture being sold in the country. First of course is the hand sanitiser.

But it seems, as if some of the state governments were closely watching people’s spending behavior throughout the day, and hence have decided to squeeze their pockets. While the Delhi government said it will charge 70 per cent extra tax on liquor starting Tuesday, Haryana, too, is reportedly planning to levy a Covid cess.


Also read: As throng of tipplers shuts down Delhi liquor shops, some wait on, others keep stopping by


For that one sip

Indians forgot all social distancing rules and ran to their local liquor shops. ‘Coronavirus, who? They asked, as it was finally time to get their hands on some corona beer instead.

And how did some over-enthusiastic Indians celebrate? By bursting crackers of course…in broad daylight. Shopkeepers are equally happy, thrilled that customers are gracing their stores after nearly six weeks.

 

One store even celebrated by showering its customers with flower petals while they stood in a queue.


Also read: Will remove lockdown relaxations if people flout social distancing rules, says Kejriwal


Forgetting social distancing lessons

Two months ago, Indians were introduced to the concept of social distancing, declared by experts as the only way to beat the novel coronavirus that had swiftly infiltrated our cities. For weeks, people were made to stay at home, and the hell away from each other. Cops wore ridiculous looking corona-shaped helmets and put on street plays to demonstrate the new rules of social behaviour.

The Delhi Police even paid an actor to dress up like Yamraj who went door to door, threatening people with their lives, if they didn’t practice social distancing.

But on Monday, even before the shops could raise shutters at 10am, thirsty citizens rushed to stock up on booze from 8am, standing in serpentine queues braving the May heat as if an apocalypse was here.

If you have missed seeing large swathes of crowds, fed up with the empty lonely streets that surround you during quarantine, Monday was definitely a step towards ‘normalcy’ of some sort. As nothing brings men to the yard like desi tharra.

Remember how people junked all requests by Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking them not to stock up essentials after the lockdown was announced on 24 March? Something similar happened on Monday. Social distancing was at stake again, but in their defense drinkers club could argue “alcohol was non-essential”.

Shopkeepers had made markings on the roads to ensure minimum distance between two people, but to no avail. The gravity of the bottle of whiskey lying in the shop was too hard to resist for many, making them forget the 1-meter rule.

But not all were running out of patience. There were some who had come prepared. For they knew the day would be long and hard, and a newspaper would give them good company in killing time.


Also read: State-run liquor shops to operate from 9 am to 6.30 pm in Delhi


My zone is better than your zone

This past weekend was spent either trying to decipher the government’s convoluted directives about what relaxations would be allowed in what zone, or envying people that happen to be in a zone that would be granted the gift of alcohol. Jokes, memes and even negotiations immediately started to be exchanged between those from ‘green’ and ‘orange’ zones and the unlucky lot from the ‘red zone’.

https://twitter.com/veenavenugopal/status/1256504019113119745?s=09

But finally as it dawned on everyone that alcohol shops in all zones would be reopened, there was no stopping anyone from bolting out the door for an errand that did not involve buying groceries or medicines.

 

For weeks, people had to ration whatever stock they had at home, pester friends, neighbours and local bootleggers, and try in vain to buy some alcohol in black. Bengaluru-based comedian Danish Sait, who has emerged as a lockdown superstar with his funny home-made videos, did a sketch on exactly this, which obviously touched a nerve, as it racked up half-a-million views on Instagram alone.

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Conversations about alcohol 🍷

A post shared by Danish sait (@danishsait) on

But now in Lockdown 3.0 (which almost sounds like a sequel of a bad movie) one can actually go buy a bottle over the counter without any begging, borrowing or stealing — how surreal.


Also read: Why consumers will swing between saving and splurge during Covid-19


Social media in high spirits, too

The day also saw people’s inboxes flood with WhatsApp forwards on India’s obsession with liquor. One of the messages jokingly celebrated the importance of drinkers, saying their role in supporting the economy will never be forgotten.

But ‘WhatsApp University’ is never just about exchanging harmless jokes. How could those with a political agenda let this opportunity pass? A message saying those who have turned up for liquor during the lockdown should be denied free ration also did the rounds.

A Twitter post pegged sales for a Bengaluru liquor store at Rs 4 crore, expressing shock at the figure, considering the country was going through a financial crisis.

Linking the liquor queues to the migrant crisis, Zee News editor Sudhir Chaudhary tweeted saying why those migrants who could afford booze should not be made to pay rail fares for special trains running for migrants.


Also read: It’s alcohol and it’s Ayurvedic — how Kerala drinkers are beating booze lockdown


Better times ahead for the government too

Surely, it’s not just the people who are finally feeling liberated with the alcohol ban lifted. State governments were also beginning to feel the thirst. Apart from being an industry that employs nearly a million people, the ban also spelled a loss of almost ₹30,000-40,000 crore for some states due to lack of sales.

Yes, alcohol is not an essential item and there are several arguments that can be made for the ban. But considering that in 2019-2020, states earned almost ₹2.5 trillion in taxes from alcohol sales, there is no denying that lifting the ban was much needed while our economy crumbled under this pandemic. Turns out it wasn’t just all of us that needed a drink through these tough quarantines–the government could do with one too.

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