Rohan Joshi: The guys who made Mumbai's new drinking law must have been drunk
If you’re in Mumbai and under the age of 25, get used to the joys of a fine mocktail. Or Google the art of home-brewing.
The good men that run the state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital) have decided that if you’re younger than 25, hard alcohol is not for you.
This is significant for two reasons.
1. Maharashtra now has one of the highest drinking-ages in the world. Elsewhere the average legal drinking age is between 18 and 21.
2. With this law, the Maharashtra government has done what most people thought was impossible; it has made people like it even less.
This would be a good time to point out that by the age of 25, you could have voted the Maharashtra government in seven times over, and been married four years. Which, as most married folk will testify, is as good a reason for needing a martini or 14 as any.
Before this the legal drinking age used to be 21.
Now, according to the law, all you can get at 21 is a beer, wine and the cold-hard stare of the average nightclub bouncer.
But then again, according to the law, you have to be incorruptible and free of criminal charges to be a politician.
There's another very important thing the law makers refuse to recognize.
That by their early 20s, most people are usually at a place in their life where their peer groups are finally freed of the bounds of the schooling system.
Many 24-year-olds have jobs that involve sharing offices with 34-year-olds and 44-year-olds.
Imagine having to skip the office party with the cute girl from down the hall and the boss you really want to have an informal chat with, just because Mister Chief Minister said it was a sin?
The law, simply put, is stupid. And the law is, simply put, destined to fail.
We’ve had a host of archaic alcohol-related laws in India all along, and nobody’s ever given a toss.
For example, the law dictates that you need an alcohol permit to consume alcohol. I got one once, just for fun. Because on the back the fine print read: “I attest that I need this alcohol strictly for medicinal purposes.”
Which is true, because extreme sobriety is a life-threatening disease.
On paper, the higher drinking age is a part of what the state calls a “de-addiction” policy.
Except in this case “de-addiction” seems to be a fancy way of saying “We need to find a way to enforce prohibition without enforcing prohibition.”
That might sound a bit paranoid, but consider some other policies, with regards to bars and restaurants.
The state of Maharashtra recently raised excise duties on liquor in its annual budget, just like it did in its previous budget. If that didn’t make it harder for bars, they also slapped an extra tax on any live performers (think the blind gentleman playing the piano at Palladium mall) present at the venue.
Earlier this year, India’s annual budget bizarrely widened the service tax net to include any restaurant with "air-conditioning that serves liquor."
Or as we call it in non-bullshitese, a bar.
So now, not only does Joe Barman not have a band, but his alcohol costs more than it did three months ago, and he’s had to throw the air-con out to avoid taxes.
And now, everyone under the age of 25 that usually visits his bar, isn’t allowed.
Which is problematic because there’s a bunch of bars where everyone is someone under the age of 25.
But for all the clever blockading-without-really-blockading, the law is also destined to fail for another very important reason; it’ll fail because we have a curious, discretionary attitude to our laws in India.
We decide what rules we want to follow, and which ones are okay to break with impunity.
We treat the government in the same way that some 25-year-olds may treat their parents.
We’ll politely listen to them lay down the law. And then we’ll do what we bloody well want anyway.
We ignore most traffic regulations at will, we abuse housing laws, and we really take a flamethrower to the drinking diktats.
Well-connected liquor stores stay open all night even though they’re not supposed to, and everybody knows where to get a drink on the oft-occurring 'dry day' (days where alcohol is legally banned, often as a mark of respect), and nightclubs are filled with 17-year-olds (drink in hand, of course).
No-one gets carded. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Personally, I hope we’ll ignore it for the silly little piece of moral-policing that it is.
I wrote a large portion of this piece sitting in a bar waiting for a friend. I saw at least two 17-year-olds. I know they’re 17 because they picked Justin Bieber on the jukebox.
A quick look around suggested that the bar was filled with them. How cool is that, I thought. These kids are revolting and they don’t even know it.
I should stand up right now and call for more people under the age of 25 to run out and storm into bars, demanding a drink, but I won’t. Because I wouldn’t want to interfere with their drinking plans.
Nobody likes that.