The news that Kerala will go dry totally by 2023 took me on a trip down memory lane to National Highway-47. It was on NH-47, riding pillion on my father’s Lambretta scooter from Nagercoil to Thiruvananthapuram, that I learnt to read two words in Malayalam—toddy and arrack. Small trilingual signboards with an arrow pointing to the respective outlet or just stuck on a ramshackle structure, showing up on both sides of the winding road after we crossed Parassala, the border town in Kerala, helped me familiarise the characters that made those two words. But my initial doubt, which I clarified with my father after a long journey, was why only arrack and toddy alone are emblazoned prominently in Tamil within Kerala territory.
If it was to help the people of Tamil Nadu, does it mean that they went to Kerala only in search of a high and nothing else? Besides, when I could master the characters in those words (only those two words) in the course of one journey and read them even without Tamil or English translation, why should the elders need such help? I was told that elders in my district rode or drove or just travelled by bus to Kerala. Stories on such getaways to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum then) or Kovalam were always pregnant with juicy anecdotes and scandalous revelations. I’ve also heard about men driving into the Kerala border after sunset and returning home sozzled by night. A wealthy doctor-friend of my father was a regular to make the sojourn that will see his Ambassador car, as my father one day found to his dismay, screeching to a halt at arrack shops and not the “wine shops”. Before I grew up to take the trip, Tamil Nadu lifted prohibition.
But memories of that era remain green in some recess of my mind. Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy’s decision only made the stories tumble out, compelling me to foresee a reverse flow of traffic on NH-47 after 2023. Will all those small towns and villages that dot the Arabian Sea up to Kanyakumari and also those stretches of land beneath the hills in the district be filled with enough resorts, holiday homes and star hotels to provide hospitality for the visitors from Kerala? Will all the wine shops and bars have Malayalam words to enable easy detection? Will the foreign tourists skip Kovalam and drive down south from the airport?
Other places in Tamil Nadu on the Kerala border, too, will have to step up facilities. For example, Coimbatore can be overflowing with people during weekends. Though it is developed, more infrastructure would be required to manage the crowds from across the border. So could be the predicament of towns and hill resorts in Nilgiris. The coastal town of Mangalore and hills of Madikeri, too, will turn popular. Even Kodaikanal isn’t far if one takes a road via Theni.
But the most sought after will be Mahe, the French legacy that even otherwise draws crowds from Kerala for the cheap rates in which liquor is sold there. The enclave of Puducherry, surrounded by Kerala, Mahe is just some 9sqkm land that cannot be stretched to take more revellers in. Everywhere else, it can happen.