Public has priorities: booze, not toilet paper
Public has priorities: booze, not toilet paper

Mumbai: Bottoms up! There is nothing like a liquid diet when one is constrained by the lockdown to lead a sedentary life, marked by minimal activity. Several Mumbaikars will have a good night’s nap in the realisation that they will not have to endure the protracted lockout period without their daily concoction.

But there were many others who were left high and dry and will have to wait to wet their whistle. Wine shops across the city witnessed unprecedented crowds on Monday after the state government announced on Sunday that standalone liquor shops would be allowed to open even in red zones, barring the containment areas.

Chaotic scenes ensued as confusion persisted over whether or not the shops would open since many remained shut well past noon. Undeterred by the downed shutters, groups of tipplers camped outside which seemed like an eternity-- forgetting all about social distancing in the time of coronavirus.

The police had to step in and disperse crowds at various places. "The moment I learnt liquor shops were opening, I was pleased as punch and set off early in the morning, so that I would be the first in the queue," said Sanjay Gagat, a resident of Marol, one of the hundreds standing in a serpentine line outside a local wine shop.

"I waited in the line for nearly two hours and saw many others come and do the same. There were many in groups, who did not care to observe social distancing.

Alerted about the commotion, the police reached the spot and asked us to return home." Another such customer - a Ghatkopar resident -- on condition of anonymity, said he was "heartbroken" when told that the wine shop in his area would continue to remain shut.

"I thought the shops would be selling liquor as per orders. But there was confusion, as shop-owners told us that the excise department had asked them not to open until further instructions,’’ the issue," the customer said. Possibly the mid-summer madness at Delhi liquor vends had something to do with that, a bystander pointed out.

Putting the "confusion" in perspective, a wine shop owner from Chembur said, "We were under the impression that from Monday morning, it would be back to business as usual. But we received a communication from the state excise department ordering us not to open shops.

This led to confusion." "However, by late afternoon, some shops pulled up their shutters, especially in Ghatkopar," he added. After 43 'dry' days, those who subsist on their ‘daily quarter,’ are so desperate that they are ready to "religiously" follow all rules to procure their ‘brand’. "We will follow all norms of social distancing.

We will not gather in groups but we want our booze, as we are famished for more than a month now," said a Kurla resident, who fidgeted outside a shop for at least three hours, before being shooed away by cops.

In Mahim, Bombay Wines was possibly one of the few establishments which ensured that its patrons followed pandemic norms, turning away those without masks and providing hand sanitisers to all who were served.

At Khira Nagar in Santacruz west, hundreds of people queued up, defying lockdown laws, as they ‘scrambled’ for their fill from two wine shops on S V Road. Tipplers had lined up since Monday morning and continued to do so until 6pm, when the police finally decided to intervene.

The police patrol vans kept whizzing past, asking citizens to maintain social distance, but the minute the men in khaki left, the 'orderly' queues broke up and clusters formed. Meanwhile, the Mumbai Police has left it to the local police stations to deal with the situation.

"We have left it to the local police stations to decide how to deal with the situation. If there is overcrowding at some place, they can shut the shop and take necessary action," said DCP Pranaya Ashok, spokesperson, Mumbai Police. (With input from Priyanka Navalkar)

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