Of purposeful blindness

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 25 Oct 2018 09:43:44



Vijay Phanshikar,

Visiting the Swami Narayan Temple Complex towards the north-eastern end of the Ring Road is always a matter of immense satisfaction. Though the passage of the Ring Road from Chhatrapati Square on Wardha Road to the Temple is under various stages of reconstruction and therefore very troublesome, the Temple Complex itself is a pleasant place, neat, and clean and well-maintained and architecturally of global standards. The fine management of the place is visible right from entrance, and whatever numbers of devotees do not give the impression of overcrowding. Spending time there is a matter of sheer pleasure.

Yet, as one travels on the Ring Road to the Swami Narayan Temple Complex, one gets a very bad taste in the mouth, not because of the discomfort of having to drive on a road under construction, but because of the countless numbers of wine shops and bars on both sides of the long road. And these shops and bars are almost ‘omni-potent’ in the sense one can find them anywhere -- near schools, near temples, in the thick of residential neighbourhoods ...! They give a terribly bad feeling as one observes men -- old and young including teenagers -- visiting those places to buy for themselves a bottle or whatever of liquor. To a person like me who hates alcohol in any form -- including in pharmaceutical drugs -- the whole spectacle offers a very dirty experience.

Of course, for any Nagpurian, any such sight must not be offending in the real sense as we find all over the town countless wine shops and bars with darkened halls where people drink and eat and make merry and make nonsense all round the year. No matter the rules, I have known people who manage to acquire their ‘quota’ of alcohol even on days such as Gandhi Jayanti or Independence Day or Republic Day. Obviously, this cannot happen unless the authorities collude with the drinking community in the most brazen manner.

True, in a growing metropolis like Nagpur, such things are bound to be found in a big measure, some may assert. “Our culture is changing, and we must accept such realities”, a college professor who drinks regularly and without any sense of shame once advised me. A very senior Police officer, too, had told me similar things years ago. And to add to my mental irritation, a medical doctor also joined the people who wanted me to be ‘cool’ about all these things that militate against my personal culture.

Let alone what I feel personally about certain issues, but I have a problem with such kind of licensing policies for wine shops and liquor bars. The authorities and the seekers of licenses for the establishments selling and drinking alcohol have a way of doing things in a legally safe manner. They manage to locate the wine shops and liquor bars just a few feet outside the outer geographical limit from institutions like schools and places of worship. So, even if some bloody fool like me wishes to lodge a complaint, they have a ready answer: “Sir, that wine shop -- or liquor bar -- is outside the stipulated limit”, silencing the complainer. In most cases, the complainer just walks away in dejection because he has no means to know the limit or measure the distance -- from a school or a temple or a mosque or a church or a Bouddha Vihar. And the authorities are known to have taken care to remind him of his personal safety, too, as those engaged in liquor trade “can go to any extent, Saheb”.

On loose-foot in the city of Nagpur, I often find such things, and return home very saddened and very dejected. In that mood, I am willing to curse the whole world, including very honourable national leaders who have not been able to stop such nonsense in public places despite their moral high-grounds on countless issues.

Going to Swami Narayan Temple is my habit that I cannot give up. So, in order to avoid the wine shops and liquor bars along the way, I tried to look for newer routes, but failed to find good alternatives as such shops are found almost everywhere in the city. So, use of Ring Road continues, each time adding to my sense of sadness upon seeing the wine shops and liquor bars.

I have a fond association with a couple of educational institutions located along the Ring Road. But each time I visit those places, I cannot take my eyes off the wine shops and liquor bars that are in the very close neighbourhood. Some such joints are just next door, and some across the wide, divided road. I do not know how to cope with this travesty. For, I have also seen students of the institutions stand right outside these joints waiting for their parents to pick them up or for the bus to ride back home. I have no idea what the youngsters could be thinking about these places, but I know one thing for sure that whatever is happening is absolutely uncouth, absolutely unacceptable.
And my most serious concern is that the youngster’s minds may get polluted or sullied with the presence of wine shops and liquor bars in close vicinity of their schools. They may not find anything undesirable in those locations since they see those every day countless times.

Who is going to worry about this unspoken dirty impact of the city’s ugly underbelly on the youngsters minds?
I do not know how to fashion my personal response to this huge, immoral and unethical nonsense, but I have learned to hate this culture.

I remember a feature a colleague had done on this phenomenon of growing numbers of wine shops in Sitabuldi area on all sides of Variety Square in the middle of which stood the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The colleague found this mushrooming of wine shops and liquor bars around the Mahatma’s statue and chose to write a scathing feature. And as he completed work and started taking pictures, he went to the island in the middle of square to take a picture of the statue. To his amusement and consternation, he found that somebody had stolen the spects on the statue’s face.

He started his feature with words, in effect, like these: ‘A thief done Mahatma Gandhi a lot of good by decamping with the spects on the statue’s face so that the Mahatma would not be able to see the mushrooming of wine shops and bars around him ....!’
Unfortunately, our society has removed the spects from its own face deliberately ...!!!