guarded his crate of Hercules Rum like a sentinel……clank the
latch on the gate a specific number of times in a peculiar rhythm that only Raju and his regular clients knew….and this he kept changing
every week….Raju would emerge from the dark, the bottle cradled in
As Arun Ram explains: “reading” is code for rum, “writing” for whisky.
We have mixed feelings on this, we dislike the booze culture, but we dislike prohibition even more. The pressure has to come from society, through education and via persuasion. Yes, we admit that religion has a role to play as well. Else all you will do is drive the business under-ground and bring forward more death and suffering.
Still there is one bright aspect of prohibition (apart from the fact that it has never worked..despite trying hard)…the escapade stories are really good…this is one more…enjoy.
almost 20 years now. The thought of returning for good never crossed my
mind — till last Thursday, when the government spelled out its plan to
make Kerala alcohol-free in ten years.
Before you get ideas of I being a teetotaller, let me make it clear
that I like my whiskey only in large pegs, never small. Those who gasp
at the word prohibition don’t know the fun part of it. Believe me, I
have been there, done that. I landed in Hyderabad in 1995 when NT Rama
Rao had just introduced prohibition. Initially it was frustrating, being
denied one’s weekly quota of ‘mandu,’ as the Telugus call it.
But soon I discovered the pleasure of finding bootleggers, and the
process of procuring booze became as heady as having it. Indeed it was
costly at Rs 500 a bottle of rum and Rs 750 for whiskey, given that
one’s salary then would not be enough to throw a party for a handful of
As a reporter, the battle for the bottle expanded my network of
sources — to watchmen, jawans and the dark underbelly of Hyderabad.
There was Raju, a bank watchman at day and bootlegger at night.
know about the safety of the bank’s vaults near Khairatabad, but Raju
guarded his crate of Hercules Rum like a sentinel. One had to clank the
latch on the bank’s gate a specific number of times in a peculiar rhythm
that only Raju and his regular clients knew — and this he kept changing
every week — and Raju would emerge from the dark, the bottle cradled in
Then there was John (hi John, hope you have retired and aghast in
Kerala) an army man at a barrack near Nampalli station. At midnight, I
would sneak into the nondescript building that was the shelter of a
dozen jawans, and ask for ‘sadhanam.’ Those who didn’t know the code
word and walked in to ask for rum or whiskey were driven away at
gunpoint; you ask for ‘sadhanam’ and a smiling John comes with a bottle
of sparkling dark XXX Rum ‘for defence services only.’
This network endeared me to many senior journalists in Hyderabad. I
was, in effect, the journalists’ bootlegger. Soon after sundown, my
office telephone would start ringing. The bureau chief of another
newspaper wants two bottles of whiskey, there’s a promotion party at his
place; I am invited though.
Free drinks were the bonus of good
contacts. When I wasn’t in office — those days cell phones were a rarity
— my pager would beep with messages like ‘are we reading or writing
tonight?’ Reading meant rum, writing whiskey. Remember, you had to dial a
call centre to tell the sweet lady your message to be sent to the
friend’s pagers. Code words, you see.
The richer tipplers took to mobile bars. You hop into a car stacked
with liquor, drink as much as you want as the driver takes you through
the city for an hour or two, and you get dropped— happily sloshed. On
weekends, there were ‘conducted tours’ of insipid places on the Andhra
border where the only activity would be binge drinking on Saturdays and
Sundays before you get back to work nursing a hangover.
Prohibition as a state policy dates back to the Xia Dynasty in China
more than 4,000 years ago. Several countries and a few Indian states
have tried to impose the dry law, and most of them realised the
stupidity of it sooner than later. In Gujarat, where the law is in
force, you get the best brands of alcohol delivered at your doorstep. In
Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, where the official dry law runs, you get
the most indigenous of alcohol, distilled from rice, bamboo shoots and
I can’t wait to have all these in Kerala. In Chennai, I have to
grapple with my sufficiently drunk brethren at dingy Tasmac shops. Soon,
in Kerala, I could put my feet up, dial the nearest bootlegger and say:
“Make it a double large, Mr Chandy.”