03 December 2006

coming back to the liquor store

from a letter to a friend of mine:


on the way to the post office a human zoomed by on a scooter -- all
humans on scooter here this is the india -- legs together up front (as
it should be, thats why how they were made) and brightly lettered


that about sums it up. india full of constant reminders and cows
pecking at dumpsters. then at the post office there was some cultural
enrichment program aimed at me (and a dot matrix printed sign for
everybody else; my life has enough signs and visions, let this be a
program, please).


1. Kindly Acknowledge Receipt Of This Money Order
2. Please Accept This Offering
3. Congratulations
4. With Best Wishes
5. For Your School / College Fees
6. Wishing You A Happy Birthday
7. Thanks for Rakhee
8. With The Best of Wishes For Married Life
9. With The Best of Wishes For Your Anniversary


just so we all know the acceptable occasions for sending money in this
culture. what i was later surprised to note was the absence of an
"Official Bribe" designation, but i guess that falls under #2.

as in:

later that day I get in the car with my cousin A---- and we go to the
Hotel President. there's some investory in effect (you cash and your
jewelry is what i expect) so we roll to the Hoter Inder Residency and
walk down to the basement entrance which smells a bit like a wine
seller. it is, in fact, a sort of all purpose cave, that only
five-stars are legally allowed to have in dry, dry gujarat.

and i'm not joking about the dry. the climate here is such that i'm
constipated upon arrival and my skin starts to itch and flake in wild
unshaven masses. i'm constantly looking for sesame oil or lavendar
body lotion to recover that lustry shine and morning movement to which
i have -- admittedly -- become so attached.

gujarat is also the only dry state in india, alcohol-wise, because it
is the state of gandhi. i'm sure i've lamented enough in the past that
gandhi's only real legacy here (besides a certain saint jayeshbhai and
his merry band of sadhaks) is prohibition and, india-wide, his face on
every (that i've seen) denomination of the money. can you imagine the
millions of gandhi-laden bills that change hands each day, witness to
prostitution, narco-trafficiking, bribery, extortion, vote-buying,
etc? the joy of the spectacle, part 342A.

anyhow, he walks me in and has me turn over my passport and i learn
the drill. buying alcohol is prohibited except to foreigners, who must
register with a valid foreign passport, and are then allowed to buy
alcohol once a week for up to three months, a maximum of 20 bottles of
beer or 2 bottles of whiskey each month. in addition to the cost of
the liquor, bribes are paid casually to every member of the office,
incuding the porter who puts your beer in the car. the beaurocrats --
who were very, very nice people -- took the time to separate their
money from the cost of the liquor upon putting it in the drawer, which
for me for the best part. besides them trying to play my flute, them
being impressed with my rudimentary skills (i can pretty much always
get a note out of her these days), and them thinking i was some sort
of strange saint.

the flagrancy of the whole affair was Garish. it brought me back to my
karma of having bought so much alcohol (often 300 dollars at a time,
each week) my first few years of college, illegally. walking into
E----- with my buyer and pointing to this, this this, and that, having
handed over the money in the car. then walking out as he paid and
meeting him in the car, with some fear but mostly total emphatic glee.
and now here i am trying to fit into gandhiji's frail and exacting
mold, and what is the ONE activity my family wants me to do with them
-- we don't even eat together -- but buy liquor. they have no cares as
to whom I go out with and which meditation camp i leave to, but Uncle
V---- made damn sure i better be home at 11 am today to get the family
some liquor.

so there's that. and i'll never forget myself thanking profusely (so
much God! so much Gratitude!) my buyer and vowing how much alcohol i
would buy for minors when it came to be my turn. oh, yes. now i have
walked 400 kilometers of gandhi's soul and have a stamp in my
(burgeoning) passport from the gujarati liquor board. yes. yes. yes.

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