Quite a few men from Kerala have relocated to Mahe.

Welcome to Mahe a tipplers paradise that Keralites haunt
news Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - 20:36

Mayyazhi is a small part of the Union Territory of Pondicherry which had been a French colony till as recently as 1954. This small town which was christened Mahe by its French masters is sandwiched between the Kannur and Kozhikode districts of Kerala.

Hardly nine square kilometres in size, Mahe lies spread out on either side of the Mayyazhi River which merges with the sea, a beautiful sight to behold.

Known for its church of Blessed Mariam Thresia, Mahe also has many forts and monuments built by the French. But Mahe is even more famous for its 62 registered liquor shops –all located within the span of a kilometre. This is further supplemented by the numerous bar hotels, where a full bottle of local brandy is available for as less as Rs 70!

Anyone travelling to Mahe is sure to some across the not-so-unusual sight of a tippler splayed on the roadside every 500-odd metres. Step out of the Mahe railway station, and you find drunkards all over the place –some yelling, others quarrelling, while a few others are busy toppling over themselves.

They seem to be present just about everywhere, on the roads, parks, river-side, church-compound, so much so that they are accepted as part and parcel of Mahe’s landscape.

The Franco-Indian heritage of the town now stands almost eclipsed by the tipsy spectre of these tipplers and their drunken tales…tales often ending in untimely deaths by the wayside.

Mahe has always had to deal with alcohol and its after-effects, but the 2015 shutdown of bars in Kerala saw a sudden surge in the number of alcoholics in the town.

Head constable Kamalahasan -under a special order by the Mahe Police Commissioner Radhakrishna- recently took charge of a Special Beat that was specially created to deal with the drunkards in Mahe.

The Beat Officer’s enquiry revealed that almost 52 males from Kerala left their homes to take up permanent residency in the town. While thousands from Kerala queue up everyday outside liquor shops in Mahe, almost 300 men come almost every week says the police.

“Every other day, we find people lying dead on the roads after binge-drinking. Almost all of them are outsiders. We hence decided to keep a photographic record of them. There are around 52 guys who have come to stay in Mahe just to drink. Hailing from various districts of Kerala, they leave behind their families,” says Kamalahasan, while speaking to The News Minute.

In addition to this, hundreds of people board the local train and come to Mahe for their daily dose of booze, available at every nook and corner. Such an abundance of liquor shops ensure that none of these outlets are overcrowded at any given point of time, unlike those of the Kerala Beverages.

“Alcohol is easily available at much cheaper rates. In Kerala, you have to pay at least Rs 350 for a full bottle of brandy. Here, very low-quality liquor that gives you a hard kick is available for as less as Rs 70. No one bothers about its spurious quality,” Kamalahasan remarks.

Kamalahasan

Bhaskaran -a native of Palakkad- was struggling hard to cross the Mayyazhi Bridge while this reporter met him, as he had already downed a full bottle of brandy by 11 in the morning.

“My house is in Alathur, I left my family…they were not good. Mahe is good and I would love to live and die here,” he shares.

Bhaskaran does not exactly remember when he migrated to Mahe, but he believes it was after the closing down of the local bar where he used to work. Now he stays -paying a rent of Rs 200 per month- at a place which is actually an extension of a vegetable shop. He works as a daily wage labourer to earn the money for his drinks and rent.

Bhaskaran

“My name is Sadanandan.” Ask him a second time, he insists it is Antony. Sitting behind a fence near the Mahe Azhimukham walkway, he takes some time out to answer, while continuing to abuse some unseen person.

“I am from Thiruvananthapuram. I just arrived here a couple of days back. Now I am enjoying life,” he grins.

Shankaran who migrated to Mahe from Thrissur brought his wife with him. Both of them go to work regularly. “The only reason why I came here is for the liquor. You won’t understand the trouble of standing in a long queue in front of a Kerala beverages’ outlet,” he walks away annoyed, at being asked to pose for a photograph.

According to Kamalahasan, almost all the alcoholics settled in Mahe do odd jobs for a week, so as to earn enough money to see them through the next week, spent drowned in drinks. Only when they run out of cash, will they go looking for work again.

“The other day, we found a drunk man on the road with torn pockets. When he came back to his senses, we asked him how much money he had on his person. He replied, Rs 20000 -a sum that he got by selling some family gold- only so that he could drink to his heart’s content,” recalls Kamalahasan.

Walk on the road, and every other minute, you have a drunkard approaching you pleading for money to either buy food or to return home. Make the mistake of lending him some, and he rushes to the nearest liquor shop.

Most liquor shop owners simply refuse to speak to the media. The few who do just shrug: “This is our job. We are bound to sell alcohol to anyone who comes here to buy.”

Enquire about the quality of liquor sold, they brusquely reply: “There are authorities here to look into that aspect.”

Palliyan Pramodh -a local social worker- believes that tax equalization is the need of the hour to serve as an immediate check on liquor quality: “Most of these alcoholics die of liver cirrhosis caused by the intake of cheap, spurious liquor.”

Social workers based in Mahe speak of the presence of a powerful liquor mafia in the town. “Move against them and you are sure to pay a heavy price,” they say.

 

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