Bacchus and the spirit of law

Bacchus and the spirit of law

RS Dalal

The tightest of lockdowns couldn’t stop the high spirits of Bacchus from spreading cheer among its innumerable fans. Neither locks on liquor godowns nor impregnable barriers manned by overzealous policemen could stop the bacchanalian spirit from flowing towards its loyal fans. Never failing to return love for the ardour of its devotees, Bacchus didn't let them down this time, too, and came straight to their welcoming homes, knocking or through the backdoor. Now, let high-sounding investigations or allegations flying thick and fast go on and on. It has done its job.

Several decades ago, I was posted as SP in a district bordering the Ghaggar. During my visit to the area, I was taken aback by a big pile of truck tyre-tubes, filled with liquid, on the compound of the police station. The stench was pervasive. Seeing my nose turned up, the quick-witted thanedar promptly said, “Sir, it’s illegally distilled liquor seized from the local villagers settled along the river. Our seizures are one and half times higher than last year.”

“But have we succeeded in controlling the menace?” I asked irritably. “Sir, even the British couldn’t do that. The residents settled here are daredevils. During the British Raj, they would raid deep in the hinterland. All their efforts to discipline them failed, including even declaring them as a criminal tribe. Exhausted, they tacitly encouraged them to take up illicit distillation, confining them to this comparatively petty crime, and peace prevailed.”

“They had behind them the experience of Scotland, that wonderland of the now great Scotch whisky,” the thanedar added. “How do you know that,” I asked. “It’s in the old inspection notes,” pat came the response. “You mean another magnificent brand of whisky is going to come out of here,” I testily commented.

“Sir, some are masters of this trade and produce top of the line liquor, using the best of raw material, adding a variety of spices, and even dry fruits, letting it ferment leisurely in the well-covered big earthen pots buried in the soft river sand. Their bhattis, too, are efficient. Some of those seized are lying in the rear. After independence, the black spot of being a criminal tribe was removed, but the present Excise Act has made them criminals again.”

“I will send you to attend a seminar at the headquarters next time,” I said teasingly. He thanked me, taking it as a compliment, and stiffened to a smart salute. “Even the courts get put off by the stink coming out of the leaking rubber tube and dispose of the hearing fast,” he added. I allowed him to have the last word.

The spirit of Bacchus flows on, and if we attempt to lock it down and weigh it under heavy taxes, it only starts flowing stealthily and more ingeniously — whether from the clear streams of Scotland or from the soft muddy sands of the Ghaggar.

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