"What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are coming today."
Thus begins one of the phenomenal poems of the Greek poet, CP Cavafy. Ever since Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, had pronounced in a television interview that his government is mulling over demands for allowing pubs in the state, forums in and out of the online world have been bursting with this one question: "What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum? Would the pubs finally be arriving on our land too!"
The eager youth ask because they know it very well that there are many a slip between the pub and the lip in Kerala.
The old school wouldn't take it without resistance, as many of them equate pubs with cabaret dance, a custom ingredient in the Malayalam films of the 1970s and 80s. What would happen to our 'culture' if we let our boys dance their nights away in the dark and nefarious halls with shimmering lights and booming music! What would happen to our
prestige if we let our girls dance in skimpily clad outfits and that too with the boys! Would they ever get a decent marriage proposal! A pub's worst nightmare
Addled by myriad doubts, a Malayalee sets out on his regular pilgrimage to the neighbouring city, Bangalore whenever he gets a holiday, spends whole nights in pubs polishing off all the drinks he could furiously jive towards at, against those blaring music and flashing lights that usually numb the moralistic beast inside. Does he stop at that? No. He sobers up the following morning, hurries back to his home, gets serious in his work and family, posts a note in social media venting his ire against the coming of pubs in his state, claiming they would only hurt the 'great' culture of his land, for which one should better die fighting. He then begins to wait for the next holiday to arrive.
Well, let's fancy that the pubs finally arrive in Kerala surmounting all the sententious questions that eat our conscience inside out. What would happen next? Would those establishments be the spitting image of pubs we usually see in Bangalore and in other major cities in our country?
With one of the best law and order forces functioning in the country and a quarter of them engaged in this nail-biting game of breaking into dance floors and DJ parties, Kerala has already become a pub's worst nightmare, from which it is now struggling its best to wake up.
Salacious details of police raids in DJ parties appear almost every month in our newspapers. The stories etch vivid pictures of DJs being pinned down to the floor, organisers being dragged down from the bars and drug rackets getting busted like balloons. Taking our eyes off the news, we sigh, seeing the dim future. A pub's life in the state with a hyper-excited excise force waiting impatiently in the wings would be as edgy as an hour in the life of a lone goldfish cooped up in a glass cage, half of which is occupied by a tiger shark. The slightest twitch would be provocation enough for a charge and the kill.
Let's imagine a few possible scenarios as the pubs arrive in the state.
1. You visit a newly opened pub with your friends, take a drink or two, shake a leg, bundle yourself out when you think you have had enough for the evening, hop into your car, turn the key, and find yourself surprised. Policemen have surrounded your automobile. "Happy New Year. But you're booked for drunken driving."
Outside almost every bar in Kerala, you'd find a police jeep ready. By the time the pubs come, some fear that the jeep would probably grow into a full-fledged police station serving every establishment in the state that serves drinks. Good. No complaints. But now you understand what the beverages corporation (BEVCO) of the state means by promising 'better facilities' for its customers and also 'promotion of abstention'. Both in the same breath. So while hoofing it out in a pub, know that 'promotion of abstention' is waiting outside in police jeeps with breathalyzers. Better book Uber and scoot.
2. With a spate of drug deals suspected to be happening behind the glittering curtains of DJ parties, the police have already put all the bars in the state under their radars. So in a pub, before you congratulate yourself for sweet-talking a man or woman into buying you a couple of drinks, don't forget to take a furtive look at the feet. Shadow police are smart with camouflage, but sometimes, if you're damn lucky, they just might have forgotten to change their boots at the last minute. Smile and book the Uber.
With the tepid response of a conservative society to new concepts like pubs, scary tales of police raids in parties that shoo away the youth, and the increasing number of CIDs prowling around in water holes to bust drug rackets, there is every chance that you could be the only civilian in the whole crowd footing it on the dance floor of a pub in an evening. Be warned before you throw that charming smile around.
3. When a light flashes in the dark hall, don't strike a pose assuming that someone wants you in for their selfies, In many cities in Kerala, the police, in order to produce strong evidence for their case, barge into DJ parties with cameramen. A video-footage might support their argument, but imagine the peril it causes when they finally hand those materials over to some news channel for the telecast. It would not be a pleasant experience for your folks far away at home, watching the news, I can tell you. And sad thing is that you cannot use 'combined study' as an excuse for leaving your home, ever again in your life.
The only advantage: your marriage will be fixed in a month.
4. Why should they dance in the dark? Turn on the lights. Let the faces come out! Gulp! Could that demand from the police drive the final nail in the net-yet-born pub's coffin! Well, it qualifies to be a strong and pointed one, incisive enough to spoil nightlife, anywhere in the world. Understand this. It is not our faces but our bungled steps while we dance that we are afraid to expose! Turn them off, man! What's a pub without its dim interiors! 5. So you have somehow finished your work for the day and desperately need to veg out. You deserve it, man! Drop in, we have got the best pubs in the world right now! Dead tired and with the words of our Chief minister still ringing in our ears: 'our youth needs some recreation after their hectic work schedules,' you rush to a nearby pub for the promised piece of heaven. Uh-oh! The shutters are down! What the hell! Sorry, pub or bar or pan shop, the police have issued strict instructions to shut their business well before 11 pm. So while in other parts of the world as pubs get to their top gear, the youth in Kerala would be snoring in their homes, much to the relief of parents who cannot by any stretch of imagination tell a pub apart from the old cabaret they once secretly savoured.
So this is the point, dear sir. If you're serious in letting your youth enjoy pub life in Kerala after their tiresome work, give them a pretty and decently long leash. You can continue to bust drug rackets and nab the drunken drivers to your heart's content, no complaints about it, but don't scare the innocent people away even before they start their life. They are here to see whether a little dancing could in any way hurt a glorious culture and a rich tradition, that we all claim to be too strong to mess with.
For the barbarians are coming indeed.
Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. The views expressed here are personal.