CHENNAI: As soon as the shutters of two TASMAC outlets near a Mylapore slum are up at 10 am, a fidgety, mostly lungi-clad mob armed with plastic cups, water packets and pickle sachets jostles for space at the counter, with shouts of, “Let’s see who gets it first today!”
Skyrocketing vegetable and milk prices don’t even come close to the ire these regulars feel dealing with the hike in rates of their beloved brand of poison. Durairaj, a welder, breaks down the liquor mathematics of 180 ml of Black Pearl brandy: “The MRP on the label says `80. They sell it for `92. And many a time, we don’t get back proper change if we give a 100 rupee note.” (The TASMAC website lists the price of as `88). People may have difficulty picking themselves up and visiting the loo after a quarter, but not this welder. In fact, it’s the opposite for him. “I can work without shivering hands only if I drink this quarter each morning,” he beams.
Five minutes flat. That’s all it takes for someone like Raju, a rickshaw puller turned rag picker, to down a quarter. He shares a second bottle with another woman rag picker, who refused to give her name. “What do we do if they keep raising the rates? We are poor and need this to get by,” she says, before slipping off into a shady corner.
Another woman carries a broom and a large utensil and stands outside the outlet, with a stainless steel tumbler in hand. A man empties about half a quarter bottle into it. In a few seconds, the woman chugs down the glass without anything to mix. Doesn’t her stomach get queasy? She doesn’t reply. “I have to go clean up shit,” she says as she walks away in a hurry.
The price rise has seen fewer people buying alcohol, claims a TASMAC outlet employee. “But some are hell-bent on drinking. That category always manages to cough up some money,” he says. He admits that the black market sustains such people after 10 pm and as early as 6 am, but dodges a question on whether the TASMAC outlets clandestinely run these black markets. However, an auto driver alleges that he had seen crates of liquor being shifted outside just before 10 pm every day, something that other drinkers around confirm. Ravi, a flower seller, attributes the decline claimed by the TASMAC employee to the Sabarimala season, where devotees abstain from alcohol and non-vegetarian food. “The crowd will nearly be double when it’s over,” he claims. Whether it affects the number of bottles sold or not, it seems unlikely that TASMAC’s surging income graph will falter. In the past 10 years, prices have seen upward revision six times, but despite this, the income continuously grows.
In 2012, for instance, the price was hiked, but the income was `21,680 crore – about `3,000 crore more than what it was in 2011 (`18,081 crore). We can possibly attribute this unwavering upward swing to the veteran tipplers’ mindset.
Raju the rag picker spews pearls of wisdom after downing his quarter: “I know the bast**** will keep raising prices. But we will also keep drinking. We are ready to pay, whatever the price. So we are always on top.”