Kerala In South India The Land of Heaviest Boozers
Kerala, the southern state of India holds some fascinating feathers on its cap. Highest literacy, quality health standards, educated people, communal harmony, peaceful life, etc., etc. But same Kerala is now well noted for a different reason- its love for Alcohol! The state holds a peculiar record for the largest consumption of liquors in India. The alcohol sale in the state steadily shows an alarming increasing trend and it has become the Boozers' Paradise.
Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of liquors among the Indian states. It even beats the record of Punjab, the record holder for large liquor consumption for many years. The other traditionally hard-drinking states like Haryana and Delhi also now stand far behind Kerala. The state is now often referred as India's Tippler Country! Yes, the change of The God's Own Country is amazing. Its highest per capita consumption is over eight liters per person a year.
Is there anything to worry about this trend? Yes, analyzing the style of alcohol consumption in the state, there is something to worry about. People may ask what about the Punjabis, they consume too much. Sure, Punjabis take large quantities. But they prefer quality drinks like Whisky, Vodka and never go for cheap varieties like Brandy and Rum. In Kerala, Whisky is the least preferred (even less than 5% of the total consumption) and the favorite is the hottest Rum followed by Brandy.
The notable features of Punjabis are that they work hard and are very health conscious people. Most of them are doing regular exercises and keep the body fit. They work hard on soil with their agricultural labor. Keralites on the other hand never do hard work nor most of them do any physical exercises at all. They are lazy people. Again on the food habit, Keralites are heavy takers of non-veg foods and consume a large quantity of fried meat, mostly chicken and beef items. Their food consumption is even higher while taking drinks. Punjabis, at the same time, are not so mad of non-veg items. They consume a good quantity of milk and wheat products, which keep them healthy always. But the poor Keralites are crazy of rice and rice products, which only help to give them a potbelly.
After a heavy take of alcohol and even heavier food, Punjabis go to fields the next morning for doing some heavy works. They mainly work in agricultural fields, which requires hard work. But you know what these Keralites do the next morning. They just lay idle on their bed. After getting up late, they go for work demanding less physical activities. They are reluctant to work hard. The labor force from Bihar and Bengal are filling up the gap for heavy workers in Kerala.
The unhealthy practice of Malayalees
Malayalees need to aware of or to get educated on how to drink properly. They love quick sip. It is like drinking a glass of cold water that they take liquors. Sipping a full glass at a stretch! Too terrific. By the time a westerner takes two shots of drinks, a Malayalee would have finished 6 shots, that too even without the support of proper food. Again terrific. Most of them are even reluctant to dilute drinks with water or soft drinks. Doctors always warn against taking more than 3 pegs (1 peg = 60 ml) daily. They usually advise to limit it to 90 ml. But a seasoned drinker in Kerala normally takes 6 pegs or a pint at a sitting. Some of them not at all eat too while some eat too much during a drinking session. Vegetable salad, fruit salad, etc are what nutritionists recommend as your food supplements during drinking. But the poor Malayalees (yes, Keralites) won't be satisfied if his table is not served with hot fried meat or Porotta (a maida product, very harmful to health). Then, to avoid the consequent hangover, we need to take plenty of waters. It also helps to get rid of dehydration later. But the Keralites never mind these things and make themselves subjected to all sorts of health problems on account of over-boozing.
It is also strange to note that when all boozers around the world love Whisky, why Keralites say no to it. In India too, people of all other states except Kerala take light harm drinks like Whisky. Here in Kerala, 94% of the sale is for Rum and Brandy. Kerala holds the record for largest sale and usage of Rum in the country. The reason cited for this dislike to Whisky is that they need a quick start. Whisky catches and leaves slowly. But other drinks give a quick result and the kick leaves you early as well. Most of my friends share the above opinion when I asked them about their choice of drinks.
Kerala's own features of boozing
Alcohol provides more than 40% of revenue for Kerala's annual budget. The monopoly of beverage business in Kerala is with the state government. The Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) runs 338 liquor shops. A few outlets are run by another Government agency called Kerala State Consumer Federation (KSCF). The KSCF runs 46 outlets. Thus, the total outlets run by both these will come to 384. The outlets open all days in the month except on the 1st day of every month. On every 1st day, the shops remain closed. The government describes it as 'Dry Day'. From nowhere in Kerala you can buy liquors on the 1st day of the month as all outlets including bars are closed on the day as per the government order. This is an exercise to control the consumption. The salary day is normally the 1st day of the month. The liquor addicted people rush to beverage outlets and bars to enjoy themselves with their salary. So to avoid this bad tendency, the government opted the policy of observing Dry Day.
Still, the sad factor is that liquor is available even on Dry Day too but with a heavy price. The smugglers do good business on the day. The starving drunkards go to any extent to buy a bottle without minding the price. They say that when it is a closed day, their starvation or inclination for the alcohol is all the more high. Needless to say, the illegal business flourish so well.
The working hours of an outlet of KSBC are from 10 am to 9 pm without any break. You need to buy liquors standing in the queue at every time there is a great rush for purchase. The serpentine queue before the outlets is a usual scene and it is Kerala's unique scene. But one thing should be appreciated. Though the queue is large, people are decent, no commotion, arguing, fight or any such indecent behaviors usually you would expect or witness in a long queue elsewhere. Here it is total equality. No religion, caste, position or financial status play a role here. All are equal. All stand in unison. This sort of decency, you can watch only before a KSBC outlet. Things would have been much better had they kept this kind of discipline in other places too like bus stand and railway stations.
The queue is large and chaotic during evenings, especially between 8 to 9 pm when the outlets close sharp at 9 pm. The rush is so heavy during Saturdays, Sundays and during Onam, Christmas, New year eve (December 31) and Vishu. To procure a bottle of your favorite spirit is really a herculean task during these seasons.
Nowhere in India, you can see such a queue system for buying liquors as prevalent in Kerala. The billing system of supply is one reason for the queue formation. In other places in India, there is no systematic method of providing bills. So people are easily disposed of. Here every transaction is neatly recorded on a computer with tax details. You are never overcharged as in other places in India. It clearly ensures that the revenue rightly goes to the government exchequer without leaking. Most of the outlets do an average daily sale of nearly 1.5 lakhs and some go up to 5 to 7 lakhs. During peak festival seasons like Christmas, Onam and New Year eve, certain outlets had done the business of an astonishing figure of above Rupees10 lakhs in the 11 hours business time. (10 lakhs means nearly $ 19,000).
Some amusing findings by BBC on Kerala's liquor consumption
In a recently published report by the BBC, the reported sale figure of KSBC was $ 1 bn of alcohol. They also reported that in a state of 33 million people, the revenue from alcohol to the state exchequer touched a whopping 100% rise over the past four years. The BBC's correspondent Soutik Biswas also observed: "the monopoly is so professionally run that consumers can even send text messages from their phones to a dedicated helpline number to record their grievances".
The present problem in Kerala as far as the purchase of liquors is concerned is that to buy a bottle, you are bound to stand in a queue for a few minutes and sometimes hours. Perhaps what you need maybe just one or two bottles of Beer or Wine or some very premium stuff of Whisky. Still, you are forced to share the queue with all kinds of people like beggars, thieves or some dirty fellows. It is an unthinkable matter for many. The solution they recommend is to set up some exclusive outlets or separate annex for buying premium liquors like Whisky (including Scotch), Beer, Wine, Vodka, etc. Already the Corporation has set some arrangement accordingly in certain places. It will extend to other places too soon, they informed through a press release recently.
Availability of quality drinks at the moderate price is another demand. But all agree it is never going to happen as the government is squeezing the industry too much to extract money. They enhance the price every year through Budget by increasing the tax or through some other methods. They announce that their intention is to control the consumption and to generate more revenue. Though the control aspect is never worked out as people are so used to drinking and in an uncontrollable situation, the second intention, that is revenue increase is guaranteed thanks to the increased tax and prices. The government knows well that alcohol helps Kerala economy a boost- shockingly more than 40% of revenues for its annual budget. They are also well aware that the customers are neither going to agitate nor stop their drinking habits even if the price is doubled. The Corporation's contribution to the state exchequer for the last four years are given below to make you aware of its growth.
How much the Beverage Corpn. paid to Govt.
Amount (in crores)
2012-13 (up-to Feb.13)
The war against boozing
The boozing is showing an alarming trend of all time growth in Kerala. Though the government and some powerful anti-liquor lobby work strongly against the liquor policy and consumption, they are unable to control the boozing habits of Keralites. But they have won in their battle for stopping the decision of the concerned authority to opening up more outlets. Malayalees' love for liquors is such high that now even for any minor reason, they celebrate with bottles. For the anniversary, marriage, any achievements, they enjoy with IMFL or Indian Made Foreign Liquors. When a happy occasion arrives, they stock plenty of bottles at home. What is more interesting is that on painful occasions too like the death of a relative, they find solace in social drinking. They justify this with the claim that we can forget our pain at least!
- The Dress Code of Malayalees (Keralites)
Cultural study is an interesting topic. Here we go into a small research on the dress code of Keralites better known as Malayalees. Their love for saris, mundu and love for traditional attire are discussed here with suitable photos.
- Christianity in Kerala
In India Christianity is believed to be started from Kerala. It spread to other regions of India from Kerala. Christians have done tremendous work in the field of education, healthcare and helped Kerala to reach the high standard we see today.
Forum for Better Spirits (FBS)
In the year 1983, Kerala witnessed yet another organization named Forum for Better Spirits. It was the association formed by some hardcore but decent drinkers. Their manifesto demands the government to provide good liquors through the state-subsidized Public Distribution System, boost toddy production, slash prices for elderly drinkers and supply free alcohol to drinkers over 90! It still works smoothly. The famous Photographer and Film Artist N.L. Balakrishnan is heading the organization. He says, if you have willpower, booze will never harm you.
It is Saturday. The Sun has left for a new horizon. People are moving in a group to colorfully lit bars. They order, drink, eat, chat, sing, dance and enjoy every moment and the ambiance in its totality. Now they are in their own world. Some are laughing. Some are crying. Someone take you on a nostalgic trip of the old good days. Old melodies are sung softly. And the new generation dance with added zest. Let them rock! Let them relax!! Cheers!!!
© 2013 Sunil Kumar Kunnoth