Who’s cheering a dry day?

Mallik Thatipalli | Updated on October 02, 2020

High-minded: The government has deemed national holidays alcohol-free occasions, which see liquor vendors downing shutters   -  Photo: V RAJU

Meet the liquor vendors who look forward to a day of relaxation with family, as few other celebrations accord them this luxury

A tidy queue with social distancing greets me as I enter Ramsingh Aggarwal Wines, one of the oldest wine stores in Hyderabad. As I make my way inside, assuring those queued up that I wasn’t cutting lines and wanted to meet the owner, I am met with disbelieving faces. I make my way past the counter and am ushered into an office, where the third-generation owner, Vikram Mansingh, greets me genially.

“What do we do on Gandhi Jayanti?” the 52-year-old businessman asks bemused, and as I nod my head he replies, “Sleep and relax, of course!”

‘Dry day’ — that’s what Gandhi Jayanti spells for tipplers around the country. The government has deemed all national holidays, which includes the birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation — the very icon of prohibition, alcohol-free occasions.

Started in 1954, Ramsingh Aggarwal Wines is located at a busy junction and commands a mix of regular and floating clientèle, including many working-class professionals and white-collared employees.

In 1994, the government of the then united state of Andhra Pradesh banned country liquor. To make good the loss of revenue, it took over the wholesale distribution business of liquor. Andhra Pradesh Beverages Corporation Ltd (APBCL), which was hitherto dealing with country liquor, became the entity to which liquor manufacturers supplied their stock and from which retailers bought supplies.

It was around that time that all national holidays were declared dry days. Asked how this impacted his business, Mansingh answers, “We had no choice as we had to follow it whether we liked it or not. In fact, till 1997 (when prohibition was lifted two years after the then chief minister NT Rama Rao had imposed it in 1995) the first of every month (payday) and every Tuesday was a holiday too. We used to joke that hum ko bhi hajjam ke saath mila diya (we are grouped with barbers, who traditionally down shutters on Tuesdays).”

If anything has remained unchanged since the ’90s, it is the fact that there is usually an upsurge of crowd the day before a dry day, as people tend to stock up. Gandhi Jayanti is one day when the shutters are not opened even for cleaning or warehousing, as violators find their premises sealed. Mansingh laughs, “There will always be that one oddball who definitely wants a tipple on a dry day,” and goes on to add candidly, “and if we do open for housekeeping purposes, we might get carried away in case someone wants high-value items. So, the shutters are down for sure.”

Asked what the day meant to him personally, Mansingh blames social and popular media for muddying the waters and eroding the veneration that was traditionally accorded to the leaders of our freedom struggle. “We read a lot about Gandhi and his contribution to the freedom struggle. Richard Attenborough’s movie was a revelation, so we had a certain image of these leaders.

“Today, social media and news give us contrarian versions, confusing youngsters. The young don’t have time to read. A dialogue in the movie Lage Raho Munnabhai goes, ‘October Second kya hain? Dry Day hain bhai.’ Many people relate it as a dry day, but forget that it came in deference to the Father of the Nation.”

Mansingh says traders like him view the holiday as a welcome break. “We used it to spend time with family and unwind. Being part of a business that enables others to have a good time, we scarcely get time for ourselves. We work our hardest when people are on a holiday (be it New Year’s or a regular Sunday), so I relax the whole day and maybe go out for a family dinner afterwards.”

Echoing his view, Anith Reddy, the owner of Tonique, Hyderabad’s toniest wine bar located in the swanky Jubilee Hills, says, “It’s our time off. Sometimes the staff gets together and hangs out. We work 12-14 hours daily, so we use this to refresh ourselves. I personally spend time with my kids but always try to educate them about why the day is a holiday.”

Mallik Thatipalli is a journalist based in Hyderabad

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Published on October 01, 2020
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