Travel Series II.

Lin, here is the second of the five that you had suggested. The locale is the same Ahmedabad mentioned yesterday but the adventure is a rather peculiar one that can only happen in India and that too only in Gujarat. Although this story goes back to the eighties of the last century, the prohibition remains in force there.

ban in guj

“I had assured my readers yesterday, that I would share another story from Ahmedabad with them and here it is.

Ahmedabad is the commercial capital of Gujarat, the only state in India with total prohibition of alcohol consumption. There are cumbersome procedures to get a permit from the Excise department to consume alcohol for medicinal purposes, but that is another story.

For visitors from other states without prohibition, there is a facility in most hotels to procure temporary permits to purchase alcohol within the hotel’s premises.

On one of my trips to Ahmedabad, I had obtained such a permit and also purchased a pint of whiskey. Unfortunately for me, during my stay during that trip, I did not have the time or occasion to consume the whiskey and the unopened bottle remained in my overnighter.

On my departure from Ahmedabad airport, I had the overnighter as a carry on baggage and was asked to open it for inspection by the Airport Security Detail of the Gujarat Police stationed there. When the bottle of whiskey was found the policeman took me aside and took me to the senior officer in another room. I explained that I had a valid permit, showed it to him and said that I could not consume the whiskey and was taking it back with me to Bombay. The Inspector accepted that I was not doing anything illegal but said that I could not take the bottle with me. I said that I could not very well drink it there and still make the flight. After much hemming and hawing and looking up the rule book he pleaded his helplessness, but suggested that I check in the overnighter with the whiskey inside to solve the problem of the rules. Checked in luggage were not subject to x-ray inspection those days. I had to go back outside the security area, re-check in, explain to the airline staff the problem and check in the luggage and finally made it to the flight.

When I shared this story with some of my more savvy friends, they said that I should have offered to split the bottle half and half with the Inspector, and I would have been allowed to carry it on board!”

Incidentally, much to the disgust of most of my family’s men and almost all friends, I quit and have not taken any alcoholic beverages since late May 1999.  So, no more similar adventures!

Story 13. The Refugee.

MullaTwo kids found a pouch containing fifteen silver coins. One had spotted it and the other had picked it up. Each claimed ownership to the find. This led to an argument and ultimately they approached the wise Mulla Nasruddin with their quandary.
“Hmmm…so you want me to resolve the matter?”
“Yes, please,” both said in unison.
“Alright, I’ll divide the coins between the two of you. But tell me, do you want me to do justice like a human or God?”
“Please do as God would” the kids said.
He counted the coins and gave twelve to one and three to the other. While they both stood there bewildered, said Mulla plainly, “That’s how He operates.”

This is a story about another financier. The first one can be found here. My story starts in 1970 in Bombay as it was then known. Prohibition was in force and tipplers depended on the ubiquitous bootleggers and the Bombay equivalents of the American speakeasies of yore. Bombay also had its own Al Capones!

My bootlegger never let me down, but he is not important for this story. Perhaps he will feature in greater detail in a later story.

Bombay speakeasies were inevitably run by matriarchs affectionately called Aunties by their clients. They gave the clients a clean ambiance and unadulterated booze, soda, ice and or water. If you needed anything else like short eats or lemon peels, you had to take them with you and also take the wrappers, peels etc away back with you when you left. The Aunties usually had a bouncer around to see that no one drank too much and gave trouble to the others. Most important of all was the security as the local cops were bought off and as long as I patronized those speakeasies I never personally experienced a raid. All speakeasies were located on the first or second floor of multi-storied buildings. I never found out why but I suppose that the ground floors were too open for the operations.

My favourite Aunty’s was located in an older part of South Bombay. It was in a four-storied building on the first floor. Each floor had two flats and the other flat in this particular case was the Aunty’s residence. On the ground floor facing the road were four shops, one of which was an eatery of sorts. One husband and wife team ran the shop making choley, tikkia, samosas and fantastic sev/bhel puri. I would inevitably stop there either before going to Aunty’s for a snack to take up with me, or after having had my quota to have a snack.

Over time, I started to talk to the shopkeeper and a very warm and long lasting friendship was established. He was aptly named Bhagwan as he was a deeply religious person with very high moral values.

Bhagwan was a Sindhi. A refugee who came to Bombay by ship in 1947 after the great partition. He and his wife had survived in refugee camps by working their butts off and had been able to pay the pagdi for the shop they ran. Bhagwan was also supporting his sister’s husband Manohar, to set up his own business, similar in nature, in another part of Bombay. To the best of Bhagwan’s knowledge, these two families were the only ones who escaped from their village in Sindh and so, the bonding between both families were very strong. Both had a son and daughter each and all four were studying in schools when I got to know them.

Bhagwan was older than I was by about 12 years and always treated me as though he was my elder brother. This is quite common in India as age is given its place in relationships. He would advise me to moderate my drinking and to take a taxi home rather than go by bus if I had had one too many. He would also give me a packet of something or the other to take home for Urmeela.

Bhagwan’s family and we met formally at my home after a few months and both the ladies also hit it off from their very first meeting. The two families became quite friendly and Bhagwan would send his children to Urmeela after school to learn to speak English properly. We would also go over to their place for the occasional dinner or some religious function and got to know the brother in law, Manohar and his family as well.

This relationship continued till I was transferred out of Bombay in 1973. I lost track of Bhagwan for three and a half years while I moved first to Calcutta and then to Kerala and returned to Bombay in 1977.

During that gap, Bombay had become wet and it was a simple matter to obtain a legal permit to buy and consume alcohol. One could go into legal bars and restaurants to tipple and life was good. All the Aunties and bootleggers went out of business.

After settling down in our new home, I went to Bhagwan’s shop to taste my old favourites and found that during the the time I was away, Bhagwan too had fared well and had taken possession of all the four ground floor shops and was running a very successful restaurant serving the same old fare but in larger quantities to a larger clientele who could sit down at tables and eat properly. He had brought his brother in law Manohar in as a partner and the two of them were running a highly successful operation and I was very pleased with their success. We resumed our friendship where we had left off and a lot toing and froing between our two homes resumed.

I was in Bombay for two and a half years before I was transferred out to Delhi in 1980 and we parted with assurances to keep in touch. And true to his promise, Bhagwan landed up in Delhi on a few occasions to stay with us enroute to and from Mathura to which he and his wife frequently went to pray at their favourite temple and to take the blessings of their guru who had an ashram there. During these visits I came to know that over the past many years, Bhagwan had been a private financier to small businesses whose owners he knew personally and he claimed that he was making more money in that business than from his partnership in the restaurant.

To be continued.

Story 3. The Room Boy.

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I would not have used quite the same language, but read on. In a cockeyed way, this relates to this story.

This story would not have happened had it not been for Prohibition. Most of India suffered from this bane for many decades immediately after independence but, sanity was restored due to sheer economics and all but one state in India have now totally removed that aberration or have liberalised regimes that do not consider drinking alcoholic beverages as a criminal activity.

My story takes place in Gujarat where prohibition is still in force but where one can easily get all popular brands of drinks at often lower prices than the neighouring states. In fact, Gujaratis claim that they enjoy their parties more because there is prohibition.

It was in 1986, just about a year after I had one hip replaced that this happened. Those were the days of wine and roses for me and I would not ever consider being without my sun downers anywhere.

I had to visit Gujarat as part of my official duties and I would mostly keep these visits to the bare minimum possible for the obvious reason. Whenever I had to stay overnight, my local contacts would arrange to purchase a bootlegged bottle of whiskey for use by me during the visit. I would gift away and left over before I left the state, much to the joy of the recipients.

In this particular instance, the hotel that I used to regularly stay in could not give me room due to a big convention and I was put up in a newer hotel. I checked in late in the evening after a full day’s work and a cheerful Room Boy carried my bags to my room. I gave him a generous tip and bade him good night and settled in. I took a shower and got into my after office attire of lungi and kurta, fixed myself a drink and settled down to watch some television.

There was a knock on the door and on opening it I found the cheerful Room Boy enquiring if I needed any other service. I thanked him and said no and said that I would order for food from Room Service and shut the door on him.

Fifteen minutes later, the same thing happened and this time he was more specific and asked me if I wanted a bottle of booze using sign language. I said no and sent him off once more.

Fifteen minutes later he was back again and I could sense that it was him again and was a bit annoyed when I opened the door and told him clearly that I did not want any liquor and that I did not want to be disturbed again. He cheerfully said, that he understood but whether I would be interested in “any other service” winking and making it obvious as to what was on offer. I lost my cool and told him that if he disturbed me again, I would kick his backside all the way to the staircase and decided to give him a demonstration for his troubles.

I came to after a few seconds. I was flat on my back on the floor, having tripped over by the kick not finding its target but my lungi. I lay there petrified for some time hoping that I had not damaged my artificial hip joint. I made tentative movements and having satisfied myself that I had not, I slowly got up and shut the door that was still open with no sign of the Room boy. I sat down on the sofa and telephoned my local contact to fetch me take me to an orthopedist after taking an X-ray. That was duly done and it was midnight before I came back to sleep.

I never stayed in that hotel again. And I never kicked anything or anybody again when wearing a lungi.

PS. Thanks Mitch.

Stories From The Past – 2

I had assured my readers yesterday, that I would share another story from Ahmedabad with them and here it is.

Ahmedabad is the commercial capital of Gujarath, the only state in India with total prohibition of alcohol consumption. There are cumbersome procedures to get a permit from the Excise department to consume alcohol for medicinal purposes, but that is another story.

For visitors from other states without prohibition, there is a facility in most hotels to procure temporary permits to purchase alcohol within the hotel’s premises.

On one of my trips to Ahmedabad, I had obtained such a permit and also purchased a pint of whiskey. Unfortunately for me, during my stay during that trip, I did not have the time or occasion to consume the whiskey and the unopened bottle remained in my overnighter.

On my departure from Ahmedabad airport, I had the overnighter as a carry on baggage and was asked to open it for inspection by the Airport Security Detail of the Gujarath Police stationed there. When the bottle of whiskey was found the policeman took me aside and took me to the senior officer in another room. I explained that I had a valid permit, showed it to him and said that I could not consume the whiskey and was taking it back with me to Bombay. The Inspector accepted that I was not doing anything illegal but said that I could not take the bottle with me. I said that I could not very well drink it there and still make the flight. After much hemming and hawing and looking up the rule book he pleaded his helplessness, but suggested that I check in the overnighter with the whiskey inside to solve the problem of the rules. Checked in luggage were not subject to x-ray inspection those days. I had to go back outside the security area, re check in, explain to the airline staff the problem and check in the luggage and finally made it to the flight.

When I shared this story with some of my more savvy friends, they said that I should have offered to split the bottle half and half with the Inspector, and I would have been allowed to carry it on board!