Dec. 23: Hill residents came in droves as soon as liquor shop shutters went up this morn- ing, many with porters to carry the bottles, making it evident how stifled the “ban” on booze had made them feel.
With the shops opening after almost a month and a half, if only for a few days, and with the festive season upon them, they were not content buying just a bottle or two. They bought by the carton.
Within an hour, the shops, already low on stocks, dried up and parched tipplers started placing advance orders.
Last evening, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which had banned the sale of liquor in the hills to deprive the government of excise, announced a relaxation till December 25. Today, residents of Darjeeling and Kalimpong started stocking up for another dry spell.
“It is such a relief to have the shops open again,” said a Darjeeling youth. “This is the season to rejoice. And what is rejoicing in this cold without a drop to lift the spirits?”
Local brew like chhang and roksi, which people make at home in the hills, were the only liquor exempted from the Morcha ban.
However, a Kalimpong youth suggested that some hill people had defeated the Morcha ban even before the relaxation. “My friends and I have been buying liquor in the black market at double the price,” he said.
Shops, which ran out of liquor today, have placed orders with wholesellers in Siliguri. “It’s wonderful to have my shop open again,” said an off-shop owner off Darjeeling’s Jawaharlal Nehru Road. “Judging by the rush, the people of the hills have really been missing their liquor. I can hardly recall any occasion in the past when people bought by the carton.”
Dharmendra Poddar of the Darjeeling Bar and Off-shop Owners’ Association, called it “really fantastic”. “Our suppliers in Siliguri have said they cannot meet our orders in a single day,” said Poddar.
“But we have explained to them that our shops are open only till Christmas and they have assured us that they would do their best.”
People in the trade said the Morcha announced its move late yesterday and many of them learnt about it through newspapers today. They had no time to stock up.
Even then, they could not have anticipated the rush, said Poddar.
For Suresh Rai, a resident of Singtam Tea Garden, the 5km trip to Darjeeling town was disappointing. He has to wait a while to wet his whistle with rum or whisky. “I came up all the way to stock up on liquor, but I guess I will have to do with the local brew now.”