What is an epidemic? Is it an outbreak of disease or condition? If so, can what I see in my neighbourhood be called an epidemic or is it a manifestation of many lives gone haywire at the same time?
In the past few years, I have watched my entire support system at home slowly crumbling; a closer look and it goes back to the same story – drinking, violence and misery. “One quarter” in colloquial language or “one peg” in the colonized English, the substance gives the same results – despair, depression and despise.
My cook, articulate and able; her only problem is the husband, who beats her up into giving him her money, the salary she earns mopping, cleaning and cooking. She says that he is loving and affectionate when not drunk, which is very rare. He is always from one drunken state to another. Beaten and bruised, she is still married to him, for either she is used to his predictable routine of drinking, beating, apologizing, loving, and then back to the drinking, or she is afraid of the unknown big bad world outside of marriage. Husband, a label that is needed to keep her within the weaves of her society and to protect her from getting raped and tossed out.
My driver – whom I finally had to let go, used to be an intelligent young chap. Hovering in his background was a two-year-old daughter and a sad wife who was unable to see any light at the end of the dark and harrowing tunnel of his addiction. When he is sober, he is the best driver/chauffeur; but the million-dollar question that hangs over our heads every morning is, “Will he be coming to duty today or not?” And that depends on the liquor consumed yesterday after he hit the bottle. Counselling, rehab and admonishment resulted in zilch change; I watched him slowly fading into nothing.
The flower vendor comes every morning to deliver a bunch of flowers for my many gods and goddesses, one of the same his mother worships for deliverance every day. Unbelievably well behaved, he offers a smart “Good morning, ma’am!”, but a few glasses in, and he is beating his mother in daylight, while neighbours watch indifferently many times and intervene sometimes to save the old woman. His wife and son have left him, for what is the point pandering to his violence. Drastically changing from dawn to dusk entwined with the bottle, he is an empty man withering in the corner, recounting imagined and elusive tales.
The ironwala (laundry serviceman) is shrunken and shrivelled, half the time in the hospital. His wife comes silently to deliver the clothes; cringing at the imagined or real looks of pity she receives while collecting the dues. She then runs to the hospital. The bindi (dot) on her forehead, big and red, indicates the misery burning inside. A spiteful cycle of events threatening to suck her soul into a dark abyss as her husband’s liver is sputtering and spattering in dismay.
At our construction site, I see the construction labourer and his wife polishing and fighting for the dregs of the bottle they are drowning into; oblivious of the reality called children, who are scribbling on sand mounds and dreaming of letters and shining life or a future where they can buy a bottle for themselves.
Liquor is accessible, close and near, easily available at every corner of our neighbourhoods. Indulgent government selling with devotion the tipsy bottles as prized trophies to failing and faltering lives; ‘best revenue generator!’ they say. The condition of the state, its people, the future of their existence, the shape of their livelihood, seen through the brown dark liquid, swirling and frothing, is obscure, gloomy and sinful in its darkest hue. Denegation of thought, leadership and belief steering to a future slipping and sucking us into a void.
A political will for change, an individual will to control or our collective consciousness to protest, what is required to bring down the erosion of lives and the surrender to a bottle?