Two men outside a liquor store in India with bottles under their shirtsGujarat is a dry state. The land of Gandhiji cannot abide alcohol. Legally, that is. To no one’s surprise, however, a thriving black market exists and the choices available are far beyond what one can get in Mumbai or Delhi, those fabled lands of hedonism and debauchery.

But those who want to buy liquor legally in Gujarat do have one option. They can apply for a license. Westerners working there are given special consideration (I suppose officials think we just can’t help it) and several of my friends were able to obtain one.

The application form is archaic:

Sharaabi ka Naam: _______________________________

Sharaabi ka Baap ka Naam: _________________________

(Translation: Alcoholic’s Name; Alcoholic’s Father’s Name:)

In general, buying alcohol in India is like filling out the form: an exercise in abasement. You line up with an assortment of shifty, seedy looking men all intent on getting into the shop in question and making their purchases as rapidly as possible. They know they will be frisked as they leave and they seem to take it in their stride.

If you are a woman, people will be both shocked and accommodating (Sharaabi ka naam, sharaabi ka baap ka naam – they seem to assume you really can’t help it). When I appear at the edge of the milling throng, a call goes up (“Madame ke liye rasta do! Make way for Madame!) and a path is magically created.

I enter the inner sanctum to make my choice from the dusty, over-priced wine section while the men continue choosing from the whiskey and beer.

A glass of red wine on a table, half empty bottle beside it.I grew up thinking of wine as an elegant accompaniment to a meal, a sophisticated, civilized drink given further dignity and grace by the beautiful glasses it is served in (Beethoven in the background, flowers on the table, candles).

Here I feel furtive and anxious when I enter the shop. I have to summon all my courage to take the plunge. If I am in a taxi, I ask the driver to park far away so he doesn’t know what I am doing and I make sure to always have a cloth bag along so he has no idea what I’ve bought (and I will never see this guy again).

In my religion, wine is so important that when it ran out at the wedding at Cana, Jesus performed his first miracle by converting vast casks of water into the best vino anyone had ever tasted. And at the Last Supper, searching for the element that could best symbolize his love and sacrifice, it was wine that he chose – transforming it from just a lovely thing to drink into a reminder of the price of the Cross.

So guys. Sharaabi ka naam? Sharaabi ka baap ka naam? Cognitive dissonance! Here’s a toast to grace and beauty and joy, to the love of God and the wonders of Her creation. Here’s to song and surrender and the silky smoothness of a good Merlot. Here’s to miracles.




  • Banno

    Oh, I didn’t know about this ‘sharabi ka naam, sharabi ke baap ka naam’ form in Gujarat. And I belong to the state. I suppose all my friends just smuggle in the stuff from Mumbai, or buy it in the black market.

    The Chennai photo reminded me of a similar store I saw in Bangalore recently.

    And with you on, here’s to good wine. 🙂

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