Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Underage drinking.

We were in Shillim at the wonderful Hilton Shillim Resort and Spa. Shillim is some 30 kilometers away of Lonavala close to the Pavana Dam. It takes about an hour to get there once you get off the Mumbai Pune Expressway at Lonavala. This time, is of course subject to the caveat that you are not traversing the road when the lumpen hordes are frolicking, drinking, molesting their companions and wildly dancing at Bhushi Dam. If that is the case add at least 45 minutes to your journey. The Resort is 300 acres on a property of some 3500 acres. Impressive. Lonavala weather was excellent, rainy, misty and the surroundings an unreal green. The food at the Resort while unadventurous [standard Coffee Shop fare – Club Sandwiches, Burgers, Thai Curry, Paneer Lababdar kind of stuff], was top notch, this was a most pleasant surprise.

This post is not about Shillim.

One morning, while we were at Shilim, HRH the Queen of Kutch got a call from her Aunt who was in a state of panic. Apparently. Aunt’s houseguest – a 16 year old girl from USA – had got drunk the previous night and, like most out of control drunks, was violently vomiting and feeling miserable. Aunt wanted advice on how to deal with the situation. Advice was dispensed, give her some water and some Gatorade or similar. Do not feed her, do not give her Limbu Pani, that only adds to the acid in the stomach thereby further irritating it. Further advise, don’t worry, girl will live. Thru the day a few more calls were made. By the evening the 16 year old was back to normal.

Why HRH the Queen of Kutch was called on to give such advise was intriguing. Being the first port of call on dealing with hangovers is not necessarily a virtue. Anyway, HRH the Queen of Kutch displayed admirable poise in dispensing advice without taking offence.

The story unfolded. A gaggle of cousins the youngest being 14 and all of them below 25 had gone to the bar called The Local at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai. The Local is next to Globus/Fabindia opposite Bombay University. This is the new avatar of Soul Fry Casa. At The Local, the 16 year old proceeded to drink an admirable number of Vodka shots, while her younger 14 year old sister downed 3 Bacardi Breezers. 16 year old had graduated to vomit by the time she reached home and was in no position/condition to take the elevator up to the apartment. By now the gaggle was in a quandary as 16 year old was vomiting in the compound, presumably could barely stand. Building watchman calls Aunt in the dead of the night and says, euphemistically, `Aapke guest beemar hain. Neeche aake le jaiye.’ 14 year old Bacardi Breezer drinker was in far better shape. 

What is the obvious thought passing thru your mind? How can a bar serve alcohol to such young people. By the way, the legal age for drinking in Maharashtra is 25. I am not getting into the niceties of Permits and so on. Let us just restrict this to the fact that 25 is the age you can drink. These girls were 14 and 16 and the others in the gaggle were all underage anyway. Both HRH the Queen of Kutch and I were shocked at the fact that they were served alcohol at a bar.

That evening we were having a drink in the bar with our fellow travellers Mr. and Mrs. Arzano and their 17 year old son Jeh. Jeh was in the bar illegally, but, I swear that all he drank was a Banana Smoothie. Jeh was a fountain of knowledge. He said that there are a few bars in Mumbai where alcohol is served without any restriction – The Local, Royalty at Bandra [once owned by Sanjay Dutt now owned by Shilpa Shetty] XO at Palladium and the rooftop bar at Palladium. Jeh said that the problem with the rooftop bar at Palladium is that it is a bit expensive. They normally drink Vodka either mixed or as shots. Never Smirnoff as that gives you a nasty next morning, but Grey Goose, Ciroc and Absolut. They almost never drink beer. Girls are never checked for being underage, sometimes boys are, but when that happens they do an about turn and walk out. We were left gaping at this revelation. It seems that this is par for the course.

More than anything else the social mores are changing very very rapidly. I cannot imagine going to a bar to drink before I was 18 or more. Sure we were given a glass of dilute beer at home but actually having the money and the confidence to go to a bar and drink at 14 or 16 is something I cannot conceive. And, to have the money at 16 to be able to drink Grey Goose, Ciroc and Absolut which are pretty pricey by any standard, is also another stunning fact.

If a bar is serving alcohol to underage drinkers obviously there are some pay offs to the cops to look the other way. So, as a business model this is an added cost. Despite this cost and the risks of one day getting caught on the wrong foot, bar owners seem to brazen this out. The economics of serving alcohol to underage drinkers must make sense.

At the end, I do not really know what conclusions one can draw from this state of affairs. Once again more questions, fewer answers.

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