Manu Remakant feigns an alcoholic to trail addicts in Trivandrum who hop bars early morning.
he first streaks of sunlight vainly tried to strain through the thick clouds. An unusual fog hugs the city roads. In the darkness my eyes picked a couple of men wearing mundu and white shirt walking hurriedly along the road.
“See them? They are going to the bar on the main road,” said my auto-rickshaw driver, hoping that the topic would break the ice. “Bar! But it’s only six in the morning! Are they open now?” I asked. “Yes, a few of them,” he turned back and smiled.
It would be interesting to follow the trail. Next morning, I parked my vehicle outside a bar at 5:30am, expecting some queue to form. The camera was ready for the shoot. Nothing happened. There was a bleary-eyed security guard at the gate. Customers trickled in, one by one. Like ants pausing and communing with their friends on return from a feast, the visitors stopped for a while, exchanged a few words with the security man, before disappearing into the dark recesses of the bar.
When I felt the doubtful eyes of the security officer bore into me through the glass, I started my vehicle heading to another bar in the city.
The shutter was closed, but there was a half- opened window. A few men were waiting – one at the bus-stop opposite the road, another in front of a pan shop, a third in his auto-rickshaw. Though scattered, they were all tied by an invisible thread of sneaky glances they frequently threw towards the closed shutter.
Soon a man wound up the shutter from inside the bar. Outside, there was a flutter of muffled excitement. In the pre-dawn darkness, the men slipped one by one into the alley that led to the dark hall. At the last minute before they disappeared into the dark caverns of the bar, they turned back apprehensively one last time to see whether any acquaintances were watching.
They know that drinking at this time is advertising their precise rung on the addiction ladder. Society would dump early-morning drinkers as hopeless cases. “Of course, they have crossed the line,” says Dr. Shibi S, a physician in a private hospital. Why do they still take such risks?
To know, I had to go further down the rabbit hole. Without even a sketchy script for the next act, I decided to go deeper into the dirt, chancing my liver.
I went past the set and hard face of the security guard to slip into the bar. My smile unreturned by the man in the uniform hung in the frozen morning air for a minute and vanished.
I never had it in the morning in my life, but today I had to. The waiters in some of the bars in the city are ‘civilised’ thugs, I know. The polish would come off easily. The last thing they brook inside a bar is a reporter. So I had to play the drunkard.
I sat with a glass of the black concoction and a wedge of pickled lemon near a man of around 50. Any drink that cost more than 40 bucks is out of sync with a drunkard. It could raise eyebrows inside the bar, I feared.
The stomach rumbled waiting for the first meal of the day. I gave one it would never forget. The man smiled. “Two more pegs, the shiver will stop,” he said, smiling and displayed his fingers, helplessly twitching. The drinks were designed to ward off his shiver. But for how long!
“When the brain gets damaged, it will be really difficult for the patient to make a comeback. Poof! The liver will go. Almost every system is affected by excessive drinking,” says Dr. Shibi.
But why are the bars letting them in this early?
“For that the law should be changed,” says a top excise officer, who requested for anonymity. “The law allows the FL1 shops and FL3 shops to run for 12 hours a day. (Foreign Liquor 1 means retail shop and Foreign Liquor 3 means bars). But it prohibits them from selling liquor before sunrise and also after 12 midnight,” he adds.
Thomas, who is serving as a waiter in a bar in Thampanoor, feels it is not all about money. He claims that there is a human touch to the business. “We know most of our morning customers and we take good care of them. After two or three pegs, we pack them off, refusing to serve them more.”
But it is not easy to spike the drinks. Drunkards do a lot of bar-hopping in the morning to make up. “They take two each from half a dozen bars in the city,” says Thomas.
The government and other organisations should work hand-in-hand to spread awareness among the people about the menace of alcohol addiction.
They say that the early bird catches the worm. One is not sure whether such hapless victims who wake up early morning are the birds which fly or the worms which crawl to their certain fate. This reporter ended up as the latter, as he could only crawl to get to the bathroom to vomit for the next 24 hours.