For the last three days, TV news channels have been intoxicated. The mere mention or suggestion of `sharaab’ has been enough to give them a high—and from the lofty heights of moral righteousness they have been staring, nay, glaring and glowering at the lowly mortals who are ‘lusting’ for a drink (News 24).
“Alcohol is injurious to health,’’ declared News 24, which has been the cheerleader of the fight against liquor. “It lowers immunity’’.
Capturing the queues
And yet, from Delhi to Kanpur and Raipur, Deoria and Dehra Dun, Hapur and Ghaziabad, Lucknow, Kolkata and Chhattisgarh and Mumbai, News Nation and NDTV India –along with other channels — showed us queues, on both sides of streets, stretching for at least “one kilometre’’ they said, as people crowded outside liquor stores that had opened for the first time since the national lockdown in late March.
“The lines are so long our camera cannot capture them,’’ exclaimed the Zee News reporter in Delhi.
This image—of men lining the streets—would play out across channels again and again to indicate the lengths customers were willing to go to for ‘sharaab’.
Sharaab: the way anchors and reporters pursed their mouths and pronounced ‘sharaab’ it sounded dirtier than a four-letter word (which of course it may well have been for many of them), worse than any disease.
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Worse than even the coronavirus.
“Kya sharaab badi hai ya jaan?’’ asked ABP. “Sharaab ke liye bekraar” added India TV, “Is India getting its daaru?” inquired India Today.
News channels saw red — as if they had been binge-drinking. And with good reason: they were worried about coronavirus, they were appalled at the crowds and the lack of social distancing by the customers. “Booze pe bewaal,” noted Times Now. “States rejoice, critics aghast”. “Police bhi shocked,” added News Nation.
“They are more eager to buy liquor than fight corona,” said a Republic TV reporter in Lucknow, piously, as he watched people jostle for a bottle, breaking the first fundamental rule of “2 gaz doori…”.
“Here we are being asked to stay at home, and they are out there breaking all norms,” said the incensed Aaj Tak anchor. “They have forgotten all social distancing norms, tipplers are very, very keen to get their liquor,” added its sister channel India Today.
“Jaan se zaroori hai sharaab?” asked the cheerleader News 24.
India TV found that “people didn’t care about their lives”. In Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar, he discovered that barely a kilometre away from the liquor outlet, there were eight coronavirus cases – so said the Aarogya Setu app, he reported. But that hadn’t stopped people venturing out from there.
Zee News was equally enraged: “Sharaab ka nasha v/s desh bhakt nasha”, it declared angrily.
Of course, channels understood only too well why states had allowed liquor shops to open the moment the national lockdown was eased on Monday: it earned them much needed revenue. Or, as Aaj Tak put it, “Sharaab se GDP up?” Later it reported that Uttar Pradesh had earned Rs 100 crore in a single day from liquor sales.
“But was it too soon?” as India Today ‘#Booznomics’, “Revenue above health?”
These are valid questions and if the channels had restricted themselves to concerns around the consequences of a Covid spread due to this unruly customer behavior, it would have been fine. But they became stern, even self-righteous.
“Sharaab ke shaukeen ko koi taakat nahi rok sakti, coronavirus kya cheez hai,” said Rajat Sharma on India TV.
“Sharaab sab kuch hai,” agreed Sudhir Chaudhary on Zee News.
ABP News found crowds outside liquor stores who started to clap when shutters went up–“logon ki khushi ka thikana nahi hain”, said the reporter joylessly. News Nation found someone performing “aarti”, and others standing with buckets. The reporter was not amused.
For the love of liquor, these people who went to get water, have come for liquor instead, he said.
“They have been waiting for 6-8 hours,” explained an NDTV India reporter outside a Delhi shop. “They haven’t got food, but will die for alcohol.”
Time for some vox pop
Reporters were relentless in their questioning of customers. Questions like, you have come to buy alcohol? How long have you been waiting? Have you got rations at home—do you have enough to eat? How many days of food have you got? Have you got a job? Is alcohol so important to you?
“How much will you drink?” asked News 24.
All channels asked similar questions and demanded to know why people were out their endangering lives.
“We want a drink,” a man told Zee News, adding that it had been a long time since he’d had one.
Later, on Zee News, one person said that he had been waiting since 6am and went home without a bottle, but he would be back the next day. Another gave a clever reply: “If we contribute (money through tax) to sick people, that is good.’’
“We are doing daan,” said another Delhi customer, loftily, to Aaj Tak. The reporter was rightly, incredulous – “They didn’t brush their teeth, or change clothes, the moment they opened their eyes, they came here,” he claimed”. As a warning, the channel played a few lines from a song by Pankaj Udhas: Thodi, thodi piya karo”.
Let’s end where we began with News 24.
Its reporter found that although Delhi government had added on a 70 per cent tax on all alcohol, people were buying cases of liquor at a particular store. He then commented that even women were out there in the lines.
He asked a woman, his voice heavy with disapproval, why had she come to buy liquor.
Just, she replied.
But it isn’t in our culture (“sanskriti’’) that a woman should come to a liquor store, said the News 24 reporter, outraged.
Well, women do now, she replied. Enjoy.
That’s what we call a parting shot.
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