Taking the holistic view of a really old habit that just won’t quit 

The seven stages of man (with apologies to William Shakespeare) under the influence 

THERE being a parallel of sorts between the phases a drunk goes through and the stepwise decline of an alcoholic, it might be worth our while to pay the phenomenon some heed.  Predictably, the rungs descend in sync with the drinks downed!

Stage 1: The bon vivant

A dyed-in-the-wool sot starts slow albeit early.  The never-before-sundown rule doesn’t apply.  He  — for it’s more oft than not a man — will nurse this icebreaker.  At the onset, the alcoholic is lucid, witty and alert — why, he could be the life and soul of a party.  This upbeat mood may last, at a stretch, through his second drink.  At which point about half an hour has passed and all is still well.

Stage 2: No-more-Mr-Nice-Guy

At drink three, trouble brews as sips turn to gulps.  Lewdness dawns.  If wed, the oath of fidelity falls on a blind spot; if a priest/monk, the chastity vow goes out of the window; and if a virile young bloke, the inner beast is unleashed.

Stage 3: The time bomb

By drink four, he’ll be garrulous and argumentative.  Smouldering like he’s about to explode, folks give him a wide berth.

Stage 4: Rodin’s brooder

Happily there is a lull after the storm.  From his fifth drink forth, he bristles in silence.  At this stage, he’s left in not-so-splendid isolation.

Stage 5: The stupefied

Head bowed and glass untouched, he makes heavy weather of drink six.  Getting to seven won’t get him any higher or lower; he’s reached rock bottom.

Stage 6: The fallen

From this point on, he’ll wallow in a stupor; bladder full, brain void.  His tongue is thick and legs are liquid.

Stage 7: The comatose

At this last stage, he can no longer function on his own and will have to helped home if he is not to spend the night in the gutter or, if he drives, in a crashed car.

My baptism with booze and liquor capacity building thence

DON’T fret.  I’m not about to bore you with a bowl-by-bowl account of my barfly days.  Suffice it to say that, as far as spirits are concerned, Bhutan broke my cherry.  Before, I could scarce hold a pint/peg.  After, I’d shock old buddies back home with my newfound boozability!

This next anecdote should show how pervasive alcohol could be hereabouts.  Back in the early ‘80s, I’d once on foot accompanied a friend, back from studies abroad and homebound after a five-year gap.

His village was a scattered one and the path there took us past three neighbours.  Word of his arrival preceded and they waited on doorsteps to invite us in.  We sat on mats and the woman of the house fetched a piping hot potful of ara fried with egg and butter.  Our hostess, who sat before us with a ladle at the ready, made sure my bowl would never be empty till her pot was.  Half an hour later, on faltering feet, we took our leave.

Barely ten metres down the trail, we were pressed to enter the next abode, where a repeat performance saw us some notches higher when we left.

There was yet one more reprise at the third and last domicile.  I blush to confess I was blotto by then and had to be borne to my friend’s house, where I promptly fell into a deep sleep from which I awoke a day hence.

Bhutan in a bind vis-a-vis alcohol – damned if we do and don’t

MY mate held his liquor far better than I could.  No surprise there, he’d had a head start, as most Bhutanese do, seeing as they’re, like, weaned on the stuff.

I’ve heard it said and seen how cranky babies were given a shot of the local brew to put them to sleep.  But that type of infant care is a thing of the past, now that parents know better, one hopes.

Still, given the number of bars down any street, there’s no underestimating how deep and wide the drinking culture goes.

Thimphu is a capital example.  For every library or bookshop in town, there must be — a ballpark figure, this — 200 bars.

The thing is, there’s a whole lot riding on the sale of alcohol.  It provides a livelihood to countless license-holders, who had they to depend on their other business, the grocery, would have a hard time staying afloat.

The prime beneficiaries, though, are our armed forces.  Their pensions and benefits accrue from the sale of alcohol, without which the state would be hard put to fund the same.

So there it is: on the credit side, we have a major means of support for shopkeepers and post retirement welfare schemes for uniformed personnel.  On the debit side, dysfunctional families, referral cases and a growing fatality rate from alcohol-related diseases.

We have our work cut out to square this vicious circle.

Solution? There’s no quick or even slow fix; we’ll just have to muddle through the way we do now

THE options on hand are few and iffy at best.

A ban seems out of the question, both from precedence — the US prohibition era was one famous disaster — and our own tobacco taboo should give us pause for thought, given the thriving black market it has spawned, and the number of smokers doesn’t look to have become any less.

A hefty tax on the product is not such a fetching idea either.  It breaches trade agreements, where imports are concerned, and would leave even less for household expenses if local produce were made dearer.

A small thing like a few more bucks won’t deter hard-core drinkers.

So, where does that leave us?  Stuck with the status quo!  Our sole antidote is to persist with awareness drives, and hope that moderation wins the day.

Contributed by 

John Michael Chiramal, Changzamtog, Thimphu