Welcome to the Age of the Measuring Tape.
The Telegraph reports that the owner of Glenary's, a colonial-era landmark in Darjeeling, famous for its breads, pastries and views, is mulling whether it needs to close down its bar. The proprietor, Ajoy Edwards, says he has physically measured the distance from the nearest highway. It's 560m. That's 60 metres beyond the cut-off for serving alcohol according to the latest Supreme Court ruling.
But the authorities have used a short cut via a flight of stairs in an alley. And that's put poor Glenary's within the forbidden zone. Now Edwards is appealing for a "joint measurement".
Whether it intended it or not, thanks to the court ruling the entire touristy hill town of Kurseong is dry, and Darjeeling has only five pubs left for its 4.5 lakh tourists.
But never fear. The West Bengal government is rushing to the rescue of tipplers statewide with a little semantic switcheroo. It is literally going the extra mile for its beleaguered drinkers and bar owners.
The West Bengal government is literally going the extra mile for its beleaguered drinkers and bar owners.
It's trying to reclassify some 277.3 km of state highway as "arterial roads" to bypass the alcohol ban near national and state highways. The PWD would maintain them along with civic bodies. Of course the state is not concerned as much about our right to a peg as it is about a loss of revenue. But to cheers to that anyway.
While the rest of north India is up in arms about protecting the sacred cow, Bengal is gearing up to protect its golden goose. The West Bengal government already declared that all bars in three-plus star hotels and clubs can serve alcohol 365 days a year. The Dry Days list has been pruned from 12 to 4.5. After the infamous gang-rape on Park Street in Kolkata, Didi had decided the last call would be at 11pm to save the honour of women in the state. That limit has quietly been removed, possibly because the industry-starved state needs all the revenue it can get.
It's not just the booze. While there are reports that Gujarat's chief minister wants an all-veg state, UP parses the difference between legal and illegal slaughterhouses and the fate of the legendary tundey kebab hangs in balance, and the Shiv Sena forces meat shops in Gurugram to down their shutters during Navaratri, Bengal is proselytising its meat from door to door.
The government just launched the Meat on Wheelz, mobile vans to take meat to the masses. The West Bengal Livestock Development Corporation which has the catchy slogan Meet the Ultimate Meat is bringing not just your usual goat, chickens and pork to non-veg lovers but also quail, turkey and duck. Its website has happily graphic pictures of butchered livestock. Its promotional video takes you into the innards of its modern and hygienic meat processing plant (with a separate unit for the pigs).
And for those who don't want to cook it, there are pre-cooked delicacies such as quail biryani and gondhoraj (the famous Bengali lime) turkey. In a time of meat bans, Bengal is standing up for the trampled rights of non-veg eaters everywhere. As Mamata Banerjee once said "If I have goat meat, there is no problem but if someone else has cow meat, it is a problem... who are you to decide what people will wear and eat?"
Didi has already expressed her disquiet about the happenings in UP.
"People are afraid and many are scared about differences over caste, creed & religion," she said in a statement. Whether she was more perturbed about the slaughterhouse crackdown or the anti-Romeo squads is unclear.
What's clear is a reinvention of Bengal. Once regarded as a namby-pamby state that quailed at the hint of trouble, now it eats its quail. And it's showing the path to resistance to all those who suddenly find the government in their kitchens and liquor cabinets.
If you want to drink in peace come to Bengal.
If you want to eat meat in peace come to Bengal.
If you want to raise azaadi slogans in peace come to Bengal (but please do not forward cartoons mocking the chief minister).
In a country that's increasingly in the thrall of stern father figures, we must all appreciate a small corner that, for whatever reason, still regards its citizens as mature adults.
And let's not forget smoking either, while on the subject of vices. Mamata famously told her state's residents to smoke up because the 10 percent additional tax on cigarettes would help beef up the Rs 500 crore fund she had set up for the victims of the Saradha chit fund scam.
But whether Didi's motivations are political or economic, the net effect is the same – Bengal can become the bastion of all vices big and small ruled off limits in the rest of nanny state India. And that is no small thing these days when politicians and courts are tripping over each other to lay down the law to regulate what we eat, what we drink, who we love, and how and when we do all of the above. In a country that's increasingly in the thrall of stern father figures, we must all appreciate a small corner that, for whatever reason, still regards its citizens as mature adults.
Amitabh Bachchan told us to breathe deep and smell the khushboo of Gujarat. In Bengal tourism ambassador Shah Rukh Khan can inhale and smell kasha mutton and chilled beer. Who would have thought Didi-state could be a reprieve from Nanny-State?
In fact Bengal could actually go whole hog and just add everything else being frowned upon in the rest of the country. How about a Section 377-free zone as well?
Into that haven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.