Corona Diaries 47: The Spirit Of The Matter — Small Benefits of A Big Crisis

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The mention of alcohol triggered odd reactions in this friend. His droopy eyes assumed a bright glint, his lips parted in a beatific smile, the anaemic face found a reddish tint and his mind went restless. His salivary glands secreted more liquid, and his usual grumpiness got replaced by a jovial demeanour. For others around him he would suddenly be more bearable.

We are talking of pre-corona times, which seems like another geological age now. His fondness for the tipple was a reason for worry for close ones. It was not only because he had to ride on a friend’s back to his one-room flat habitually after a few drinks or the embarassing drunken din he unleashed but also because he loved his drink too much for his own good. It came at the cost of his health. Some even suggested packing him off to a de-addiction facility, an idea he resisted with some ferocity.

He was a very happy man a few days into the lockdown. He had prepared himself with a decent stock unlike his friends. During alcoholic rants he would remind them of the wisdom of the ant who saved for rainy days. He would also brag that he could do without them forever. “Whoever says friends make the world go around is an ***hole,” went one of his favourite recycled jokes, “Whiskey makes it go around twice as fast.” The world indeed moved twice as fast and to his shock his stock was over even before the first repeat of the lockdown. This was the beginning of painful days. Symptoms of withdrawal kicked in and he had to endure it with no help in sight. Confined to homes, friends could do little. It was a terrible situation.

Three weeks and hundreds of frenetic calls later, however, they reported a happy twist to the situation. Our friend was doing well. He had lost craving for alcohol. He didn’t salivate at the mention of it anymore. Also, he had lost the propensity to berate friends. He was full of apology for his disgusting conduct earlier. On short, he had evolved into a new person. Well, the pandemic may have wreaked havoc in the world, but it has not been without its small benefits.

People have abandoned many old habits and acquired fresh ones. They have learnt a few things and unlearnt some. New situations create new challenges for species and adaptability is the key to the process of evolutionary growth. Charles Darwin would have loved the lockdown time to observe the capacity of humans to change. The period of controlled activity is not over yet. By the end of it the whole human species may not have transformed into something else, but surely some of its samples, like the friend above, would have made the jump from their inferior version to a superior one.

NO CLINKING OF GLASSES

Indians love their whiskey. Volume-wise, we are the largest consumer of the drink in the world, guzzling nearly half of all that is produced globally. While our weakness for spirits (hard drink in popular lingo) in general is second only to the Chinese, whiskey occupies a special place in our hearts. If alcohol consumption has doubled in the country in a decade, then a large part of the blame goes to this variant of spirit. This applies to growing addiction to alcohol too.

It appears the pandemic has achieved, at least temporarily, what decades of anti-liquor campaign and prohibition failed to. It has weaned many hardcore drinkers off the habit, and social drinkers don’t crave alcohol the way they did in pre-corona days. The kilometres long queues at liquor shops after the first lockdown break may have revealed how deep drinking has gone into our society, but it certainly did not reflect the number of those who resisted the temptation to make a dash for their tipple.

In the absence of statistical evidence we may be drawing inaccurate conclusions, but the fact remains that the prolonged closure of the usual watering holes – bars, clubs, restaurants etc, the compulsion to stay at home and the fear of the disease are bound to have an impact on the habit. We can say ‘cheers’ to that. The whiskey can wait.

DROP THAT FAG PLEASE

Supply creates demand as much as demand created supply. Cut the supply and the demand diminishes. That appears to be the case with cigarettes. The pandemic cut off the supply line for a long period. The more resourceful lot managed to get a truncated supply, but for most the trouble was not worth it.

According to a survey by Foundation of a Smoke-free World conducted in five countries, the desire for a smoke has gone down during the pandemic. In India, a news report said, out of 1500 smokers surveyed, nearly 1000 attempted quitting smoking. Most of them were young people in the age group 18 to 39. The constant warning that smokers were vulnerable to severe infection of the lungs was one of the reasons. The other was the fact that smokers had greater hand to mouth contact, which increased the chance of infection.

The biggest factor, however, was the lack of availability. Had this been continuous and trouble-free, most would not have come around to the thought of quitting. The new habit must continue. Sagging demand should constrict supply.

WHEN EVEN A PANDEMIC IS NOT ENOUGH

Quitting, it is said, requires the power of will. Not quitting, it appears, requires greater will, plus inventiveness. Cut off from their regular dose of alcohol, many took to putting spirit and sanitizers to creative use. Some tapped into the network of bootleggers and some tried to grasp the chemistry that turned rice into beer, turning their homes into mini laboratories in the process. The option of quitting, of course, was never on the table. That’s perhaps what they call the never-say-die spirit — no pun intended. Even a pandemic has to bow before it.

Also Read: Coronavirus Can Survive On Your Phone For A Week

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