A teetotaller’s tale

| Updated on March 12, 2018

Johnson Poomala Photo: K.K. Mustafah

The way the Kerala government uses alcohol revenue to fund its expenditure is baffling, says Johnson Poomala, philosophy professor and former alcoholic. “It’s bad economics, bad politics and bad policy.”

Poomala, who runs the Punarjani de-addiction centre near Thrissur in Kerala, says that the alcohol economy is a self-defeating one.“What’s the point in the government’s earning more than Rs 8,000 crore a year from liquor sales when it loses many times more because of the economic damage caused by alcohol abuse?”

Keralites, he says, waste millions of hours drinking. This, in turn, leads to absenteeism and shirking and lowers efficiency. “The value of the work undone or badly done could run into thousands of crores each year,” says Poomala, who teaches philosophy at Kerala Varma College, Thrissur.

“Also, consider the huge expenses the government and the public incur on health care and other services required by alcoholics. Add the economic cost of family break-ups, marital discord and children denied education. You then get the real cost.”

He is critical of the campaign against alcohol abuse run by the Kerala government. “It’s idiotic,” says Poomala. “On the one hand, the government promotes alcoholism, and on the other, it runs a stupid campaign against it.”

Early start

Poomala speaks from experience. “Drinking damaged my personal potential and career prospects,” he says. He got his first taste of liquor at age 12. Stealing from his father’s stock, he was a regular drinker by the time he entered college. Poomala dropped out of college for a year because of his drinking problem, then went on to pass his BA and MA with first ranks in the university.

Instead of an illustrious career, alcohol ensured Poomala pursued odd jobs, even working as a coolie in Thrissur’s vegetable market to pay for his drinks.

Between binges, he earned a PhD in Gandhian philosophy as well as a law degree. But he was unemployed for several years.

He could not hold a teaching job and struggled as a lawyer. He became dependent on his wife for his daily drinks. Kudiyante Kumbasaaram (A Drunkard’s Confession), his autobiography, candidly tells the story of a quarter century of drinking and debauchery.

When he was 36, Poomala finally realised that alcoholism was a serious illness. With willpower and treatment, he quit. “I haven’t tasted a drop of alcohol in the past 15 years,” says the former alcoholic with pride.

Published on December 08, 2013

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