With no night life, it's all work and no play for Kerala

While boosting the nightlife can have  positive economic impacts, it can also help our society be more acceptiing space for  alternative lifestyles

KOCHI: It was 2008. Travis Kalanick was busy writing codes for his next startup, Uber. Travis decided to head to a remote part of India with his team, so they could peacefully work on the major idea. He picked Varkala, the serene beach in Thiruvananthapuram. “He didn’t go to any IT park in the state, but to Varkala, where he could relax after a stressful workday. Every beach shack sells beer there,” says Robin Alex Panicker, founder of Finnotes and venture partner at Unicorn India Ventures. 

illus| amit bandre
illus| amit bandre

Ironically, Kerala hasn’t been successful in tapping into its picturesque potential that could provide economical working conditions and also space for the working population to socialise and ‘blow off some steam’, he adds. Recently, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan ideated boosting the nightlife of the state and introducing pubs in cities: The move was welcomed by many, while it also attracted criticism on several levels.

Despite being one of the states that consume the highest quantity  of alcohol in the country, many Malayalis disregard the concept of social drinking. The stigma around it easily deems anyone who drinks an alcoholic.

“Social drinking helps people come together. It is globally accepted and practised. For many people, ending a stressful day by catching up with your friends over a drink or two can help. Kerala needs to be more accepting of modern lifestyle choices,” says Robin. 

Not just IT parks

Most youngsters in Kerala speak highly of the vibrant nightlife in Bengaluru, Karnataka. “This is why most techies migrate there and startups are keen to invest there. Even Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai have a good mix of establishments where people can socialise. Acceptance towards a safe nightlife and social drinking is helping these cities nourish and retain their talent pool,” Robin adds. 

But if such a balance is achieved, it would benefit other sectors too, says Jose Dominic, convener, CII Kerala Tourism Panel. “Kerala needs to loosen its excise policies regarding alcohol. We see long queues of people waiting to buy alcohol in front of Bevco outlets. It is a sore sight, and it is everywhere in Kerala, disrupting shoppers and often causing a nuisance. It paints a sorry picture of our state in front of tourists,” says Dominic, quipping about the time when the German Ambassador visited Kovalam and had to be served wine in tea pots. “Now, think about how bad it is for a regular Malayali,” he says. 

According to him, opening pubs and clubs around IT parks would be a mistake. “Kerala needs to see some development as a whole. The tourism industry contributes 12 per cent of the state’s GDP, and now is struggling to stay afloat. We lost a major chunk of our business when the UDF government imposed liquor restrictions in 2014. Many people left the state,” Dominic says. He asks a pertinent question. Should the domestic and foreign tourists visit IT parks to get a drink? 

‘Don’t bring the party to us’

Sridevi C V who works in Infopark makes a fair point. “IT parks is where we work. We need a professional environment there. I feel that putting pubs and clubs will affect its overall image, especially if people from outside start visiting our work campus to party and drink. They should allow space for socialisation in the city and near IT parks, maybe. It will also help bridge the gender disparity in our society — when women and men are allowed to coexist,” says Sridevi. Jose Daniel also agrees. “If you have pubs and clubs in IT parks, tourists will frequent them. Restaurants and hotels will also shift there to serve the demand. The whole city will move to industrial areas, and that won’t be ideal,” he says.

A place to socialise and build strong network

Hareesh Vijayan, a techie working with UST at Infrapark in Kochi, says such establishments are vital for our cities, not just IT parks. “It will be especially good for women who need a safe space to socialise and drink. Now, men stand in queues and buy alcohol, but not many women would be comfortable doing that. So, they depend on their male colleagues and friends to buy liquor for them which they consume at home or hostels. If we have an active nightlife in our cities, we can all mingle, drink and have dinner together safely,” says Hareesh, adding that along with nightlife, the culture will evolve too. “Women will have safer spaces to move around if the city is awake and alive at night. That would solve a lot of our problems,” says Hareesh. 

Anuraj Girija K A, the lead engineer at Trenser Technology Solutions (P) Ltd from Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram, says it will help foreign clients feel at home. “Currently, IT professionals pick five-star hotels and bars in the city to hold meetings with foreign clients. Having such facilities near our workplace will help us and them relax and work better. Right now, there aren’t many places near Technopark where you can even have dinner late. The capital city sleeps after 9pm. We depend on small wayside vendors for late-night food. An active nightlife would help us, and showcase a better face of our state to foreign clients and visitors,” she says. 

Much-needed change for artists

In cities like Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai pubs and bars also act as venues for upcoming musicians, bands, stand-up comics and what not! But in Kerala, a good venue is a rarity, DJs are outcasts and this is dragging down the many economic possibilities of social gatherings. “Musicians and bands like us can benefit if pubs and open venues open up. While I was in Pune, I used to see new bands and artists perform in pubs and clubs recently. If we can offer such spaces for artists in Kerala, it would be a welcome move” says Vishnu Vijayan from Mangosteen Club, an up and coming band from Kochi.  

DJs, who make a living at pubs and social spaces all around the world, are also mistreated and ostracised in Kerala — by the public and even police. “In metro cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru, people have permanent facilities where they eat and hang out, with music. But Kerala has so very few of those. Moreover, our cities sleep early, making nightlife taboo and unsafe. We need more initiates to fix this,”  says Arun S, a DJ based in Thiruvananthapuram.

  • The stigma around drinking easily deems anyone who drinks an alcoholic. Social drinking helps people come together. It is globally accepted and practised 
  • Robin Alex Panicker, founder of Finnotes
  • Promoting nightlife in Kerala has two dimensions — one, the government’s proposal to allow pubs and wine parlours near IT parks will help attract youngsters as well as tourists from other cities to the state. This will also help boost the tourism sector and give artists a venue to perform. 
  • -Rupesh Kumar, coordinator of Kerala’s Responsible Tourism (RT) Mission.
  • Most startups work 24X7 and the employees have no space to unwind. They need to socialise and get connected with like-minded people. This initiative will help in bringing more talented people into the city and naturally help startups build their resources
  • -Ashok Kurian, Head (business devpt), KSUM. 

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