After the devastating Kerala floods, there was another deluge. Official statistics now reveal that Keralites consumed liquor worth Rs 516 crore in the ten days after the floods. It was as if the floodgates opened at the hundreds of beverages outlets in the state.
That's interesting numbers, despite the fact that Kerala routinely figures among states with the highest liquor consumption. The 10 days in question were those between Independence day and Onam, which was celebrated on 26th August. The severest flood crisis the state has seen in a century unfurled exactly in those ten days.
Obviously when Kerala was hurt by water, waters of a different taste and hue were comforting them as well. A case of agony and ecstasy co-existing.
According to data from the Kerala State Beverages Corporation (Bevco) the total sale of liquor and beer during the ten-day Onam sale was of Rs 516 crore.
Much water had flowed under Kerala's bridges -- and above them as well -- ever since the Onam sale kickstarted. During those days Kerala saw horrors generations hadn't seen. Tales of suffering were told, retold and listened to. Human suffering was overshadowed by human grace.
'Brute beauty and valour and act'
Ever so political Kerala even debated on divisive lines -- on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Rs 500 crore aid offer, on a Rs 700 crore 'counter bid' by the UAE Sheikhs, and on whether Pinarayi Vijayan's government had horribly mismanaged the dams and caused the deluge.
All this happened when more than a million people were on rooftops waiting for the helicopters that never arrived (thanks, obliquely, to the Marxist government's unwillingness to let the Army take over rescue operations), when a million-and-a-half in the relief camps were picking up pieces from a life licked clean by floodwaters, and when the "brute beauty and valour and act" of Kerala's fishermen saved lives in thousands.
And while all this was happening, while the debate on Rs 700 crore UAE aid panned out, Keralites simply drank up liquor worth Rs 500 crore! Life never stops? Liquor is a raft when the mind is at sea? Even when the floodwaters withdrew, the withdrawal symptoms drew more Malayalees to the bar counters.
Indomitable Malayalee 'spirit'
Even more surprising fact is that the century's flood did not act as a serious dampener for the state's Bacchus-lovers. The 10-day Onam liquor sale in 2017 was of Rs 533 crore. No, Malayalees didn't cut down on the tipple and instead raised toast to relief. The Rs 17 crore deficit in Bevco books owes to another important factor. As many as 60 of the 270 retail outlets had been flooded and shut. Had these outlets been open, the consumption would have been higher this year.
What does all this mean? Malayalees' ability to keep earthly affairs like flood and matters of the spirit separate? Resilience in the face of disaster? Or callous pleasure-seeking while people all around suffered? Well it could be cruel to say so. Maybe they were drowning their flood sorrows in the moonshine. Or it could even be a case of the indomitable Malayalee 'spirit" on display?
Let whatever be. When you take the final stock, that binge drinking during the time of flood wasn't all that bad for the flood victims. The state's beverages corporation has said it will contribute Rs 250 crore for flood relief. The corporation has already donated Rs 30 crore. More contributions will arrive, but that depends on how hard the Keralites drink in the days ahead.