Shobhaa De | Wine is nice… Raut and the Rubaiyyat go well together

My problem is not with wine being made available in supermarkets, it is with wine being described as a non-alcoholic drink.

I am pretty certain Shiv Sena’s firebrand MP Sanjay Raut is a closet romantic. I am willing to bet he is a secret fan of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyyat. I can visualise Rautji lounging on comfy gaddas after a hard day’s work in Parliament, once he has finished hollering at minions and tweeting against his political allies using language that is anything but parliamentary. It is in such a mellow frame of mind that Sanjay may pick up a copy of the Rubaiyyat (Marathi translation) and read: “A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread — and thou beside me, singing in the wilderness, Oh, wilderness were paradise now.” Omar Bhau (not Bhai) perfectly encapsulates the heady, giddy emotions generated by a glass (or several) of wine.

Rautji, perhaps to demonstrate how deeply he understands and appreciates the poetry of Khayyam, has made us wine drinkers feel a whole lot less guilty about enjoying our favourite beverage, when he declared that “wine is not alcoholic”! Yayyyyyy! I instantly ordered a carton of my favourite white (from Mendonza in Argentina, not Baramati in Maharashtra), picked up a straw and started sipping. If a learned, erudite neta says that wine is not alcohol, it must be true.

Who am I to disagree? Next, we will hear cigarettes are not tobacco. And ganja is not an opiate. Encouraged by his liberal-progressive and highly original thinking, I went to the nearest kiranawala and grandly ordered a Merlot. The kiranawala was a little flustered, and then clarified his tiny dukaan didn’t make the wine seller cut since it was smaller than the stipulated size. This is outrageous! Wine can be stored aaram se in much smaller spaces, as we all know! He can borrow my wine cabinet and get into business — it stores plenty! But some really unsporting types in the state of Maharashtra have okayed just 600 stores eligible to sell wine, since the size criterion stands at 100 square metres. Which means a lousy eight per cent of walk-in shops will be able to sell our favourite Whites, Reds and Roses. Not fair!

Till then, Rautji can also ruminate on these immortal lines from the Rubaiyyat: “The wine of life keeps oozing drop by drop… the leaves of life keep falling one by one…” Frankly, I don’t care a jot about the politics of this move to make wine more easily accessible… it’s a sensible move. Whether Sanjay Raut’s daughters are directors of wine companies, distribute wine, or own vineyards… is incidental.

Remember, Raut is doing it for the farmers. He wants to double the farmers’ income. No other motive. So sweet, na?

Sharad Pawar has declared he will not object if the decision is revoked, pointing out that it was taken by the MVA government. Considering Sharad Bhau has always been the shrewdest leader from Maharashtra, he is playing his cards deftly. But hello… it is the same Sharad Bhau who had introduced the idea of wine tourism in his constituency in Baramati, way back in 2008, with plans to start wine tasting clubs and guided tours, in partnership with Booze Baron (at the time) Vijay Mallya. Baramati is considered India’s wine country, and 30 km from Baramati town, a chateau shimmers and beckons wine lovers, offering a memorable experience, with spicy Kolhapuri mutton teasing the palate as much as the Four Seasons’ wines at the long, tasting table.

The Four Seasons’ vineyard attracts the young and adventurous, who receive a fine initiation into the art of appreciating wine. I gotta go!
I think it’s a brilliant idea to make wine more easily available. More importantly, we need to shed our antiquated attitude towards alcohol.

Prohibition has failed spectacularly over the years, and successive moralists have been forced to eat crow. People will always find a way to drink alcohol, the restrictive laws be damned. Getting “high” cannot be state-monitored, but responsible drinking can and must be enforced across the board. Consuming wine and spirits is a personal choice — you no like, you no drink. But why bully others by preventing them from enjoying their favourite tipple? India is the largest whisky market in the world, reports claim. And yet, five states in the country are dry (Gujarat, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Bihar). Are the people of those states better behaved? More disciplined? Highly productive? You know the answer. So, why this goody-goody, moralistic nonsense and hypocrisy?

Bihar is one of the most lawless states in the country, and illicit alcohol is freely available. People in Gujarat are obsessed with alcohol and go to any lengths to drink it clandestinely. The affluent drive for miles to cross the border and binge drink.

My problem is not with wine being made available in supermarkets, it is with wine being described as a non-alcoholic drink. If it is non-alcoholic, what exactly is it, Sanjay Raut? Just grape juice? As harmless as ganney-ka-ras? Be upfront and say it like it is, nobody will laugh or object. Some of us remember the excitement of enjoying a really, really mediocre wine produced by an Italian (Luigi Bosca), who was invited by the Indian ministry of agriculture to figure out what to do our surplus grapes. Make wine, the Italian promptly replied, and started the Baramati Grape Industries. It tanked subsequently, but for a few heady years, it was exciting to drink “Indian wine”.

Today, the wine business in the country has grown to a staggering $150 million, with 30 per cent forming the import of wines. It is expected to grow at 25 per cent to reach $274 million between 2021 and 2026. I am definitely investing in cartons of straws, as we welcome the new frisky young wines that are crowding the shelves and getting paired with desi khaana by enterprising chefs who have figured the potential… just like Raut obviously has. Why not go with the flow, literally and financially?

In the old days, “daaru” was “daaru” — one broad description for any alcoholic drink. It was also considered “evil”, as Bollywood never failed to remind us… only bad guys like actor Pran drank and killed people wantonly. Only scantily-dressed vamps like dancer-icon Helen forced innocent heroes to consume booze and behave abominably “under the influence”. Darlings, this is 2022… Grow up! Read the Rubaiyyat. Wine is nice! Cin Cin and may the best Rose win!

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