A Bibulous Baraat and Personalised Postscript to Prohibition

Published: 07th May 2016 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th May 2016 01:01 PM   |  A+A-


Along with a couple of hundred other residents of Gurgaon, Bunny and I waited with bated breath at the Delhi-Haryana border for the long-awaited baraat finally to arrive. It was April 1998.

“There it comes, there it comes!” someone shouted. And, sure enough, through the shimmering heat haze of early summer, we could see it coming.

Bhangra dancers doing an enthusiastic jig led the way, followed by an out-of-tune foo-foo band, all caterwauling clarinets and banging drums. And bringing up the rear was a flower-bedecked truck bearing a very special ‘bridegroom’. Special because the ‘bridegroom’ wasn’t a person but a potable: it was Booze with a capital B.

Haryana was officially ending 22 long, dry months of total prohibition in the state, and was doing so with a dhoom-dham celebration associated with the reception of a wedding baraat. 

In June 1996, the then chief minister of Haryana, Bansi Lal—the same Bansi who earlier had put his state on the tourist map by establishing a chain of inexpensive rural motels which served locally brewed Sandpiper beer—had declared prohibition in Jatland, reportedly at the repeated pleas of the local womenfolk who complained of their menfolk spending all their money on demon drink and coming home drunk and beating them.

Bansi obliged and made Haryana dry. Many of the residents of the swank condominiums that had sprouted like mushrooms in Gurgaon’s fertile soil made distress sales of their liquor stocks. Others, like me, picked these up at throwaway prices, and found ingenious hiding places in our homes in which to conceal them. (The central air shaft mandatory in all Haryana houses was a favourite hidey-hole.)

When our secreted-away store of booze run out, us diehard drinkers would run the gauntlet of prohibition check-posts after buying drink in Delhi and smuggling it into Haryana. I’d shove cases of wine, beer and whisky in the trunk of my car and cover them up with official-looking files prominently marked ‘Times of India: Confidential’, and kept my fingers crossed that they together with my Press card would do the trick.

They did. I was never stopped. Others were not so lucky. Breaking the prohibitory laws had been made a non-bailable offence, which meant if you were nabbed with booze, you’d end up behind bars of a kind quite different from those you liked to frequent.

Amateur bootleggers were advised to keep at least a couple of thousand rupees on their persons to escape the long arm of the law at the end of which there was inevitably and invariably an extended palm waiting to be greased.

And greased if was. Ramu, who ran a small tea stall near our housing colony, which itself is close to the Delhi-Gurgaon border, was said to daily collect between `30,000 and `50,000 from cops who’d stash the money with him so as not to be caught with it while they were on duty and collect it from him when they went home.

For this service, Ramu of course took his cut of the proceeds. Everyone took their cut. All except the state exchequer, which lost out on thousands of crores annually on liquor excise duties.

Something had to give. And it did. In the form of the same women’s groups who had urged the chief minister to impose prohibition now begged him to repeal it. Because earlier their menfolk would at least come home drunk, with some of their money intact. Now, they’d go get drunk in neighbouring Delhi, Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan and not come home at all till all their money was spent, or robbed from them when they were comatose with drink.

So, once again, Bansi obliged them. Prohibition was scrapped. Much to the dismay of the border cops and Ramu, who lost out on a lucrative deal.

This postscript to prohibition is addressed to all my fellow elbow-benders in Bihar and other parts of country which have gone totally dry or are expected shortly to do so.

Even as they are forced to turn down an empty glass, I ask them to be of good cheer. For, later if not sooner, they too shall witness the jubilant welcoming of a bibulous baraat.


(Suraiya is going abroad and his column will be resumed after his return)


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