February 16, 2020
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Mumbai Diary

Prohibition has long since gone in Maharashtra. But incredibly, the ‘permit’ system remains. You need a ‘permit’ to legally consume, buy or even transport alcohol.

Mumbai Diary

Old Tripper-up

When I first came to Bombay in the mid-1960s, prohibition was in force. To buy alcohol legally, you needed a ‘permit’. A fixer told me the easiest way to get it was to obtain a certificate from a doctor saying that, because I had studied abroad, I had become so addicted to booze that I couldn’t do without the stuff. In other words, at the age of 24, I was an irredeemable alcoholic! I think I paid Rs 150 for the ‘permit’, a fairly large sum in those days, considering that my monthly salary as a journalist was only twice that amount. The fixer told me that apart from himself and the doctor, my Rs 150 went right up the bureaucratic and political ladder. The ‘permit’ allowed me four ‘units’ (a unit was a bottle of spirits) a month. Well, prohibition has long since gone in Maharashtra. But incredibly, the ‘permit’ system remains. You need a ‘permit’ to legally consume, buy or even transport alcohol. Of course, very few people take the trouble—and expense—to get the darned ‘permit’. This gives the police and the excise department the excuse to raid bars and extort money from their owners and customers. And listen to this: the punishment, under a law dating to 1949, is a Rs 50,000 fine and imprisonment up to five years, the same as for rioting and assault! Somebody coming from abroad who lands in Mumbai today and buys alcohol from the duty-free shop at the airport could actually be convicted under this 1949 law when he takes the alcohol outside the airport, if he does not have a ‘permit’. Pretty ridiculous. The new Maharashtra chief minister has a reputation for honesty and efficiency. He should get rid of this stupid ‘permit’ system.

Relieving Poles

I tend to be very sceptical of what goes by the name of  ‘alternative medicine’. This includes homoeopathy, ayurveda, naturopathy, acupuncture and the cures the likes of Baba Ramdev advocate. There are too many quacks in the ‘alternative medicine’ field, little regulation—and too many gullible people. But a doctor in Bangalore who has been treating patients suffering from bad joints, particularly knees, using ‘magnet therapy’, intrigues me. Vibhuti Patel, an old friend who recently retired from Newsweek, heard about him from Patricia Sethi, who also worked for Newsweek and who benefited hugely from the treatment. The therapy does not come cheap and the doctor does not guarantee success. He first checks if there is sufficient cartilage left in the joints which can be ‘regenerated’ by the magnets before agreeing to treat a patient, Vibhuti explained to me. But her knees already feel better, only days after the treatment was over, though the full effects will only be known several months later, she says.

Goa’s most famous and greatly loved personality, artist and cartoonist Mario Miranda, should perhaps try it out. Bad knees have severely restricted his movements, confining him to a wheelchair. However, that did not prevent him and his wife Habiba from attending a recent exhibition in Panaji where his paintings and books were on display to a large gathering of friends and admirers.

A Heart for India

Sadly, I have to report the recent passing away of a much-loved and unusual Britisher, Derek Edmund Moore. Though Derek came from a poor, working-class family of London, his intellectual brilliance first took him to Cambridge University and then Gray’s Inn, before he joined the British Civil Service. But his connection with India began earlier, during the World War II, when, at the age of 18 he joined the Maratha regiment of the Indian army as a captain. He fell in love with India and spent some years in Belgaum and Bangalore. Over the last four decades, he came to this country every year, invariably passing through Mumbai, and developed a close friendship with the Oriya artist and writer, Prafulla Mohanti. In Prafulla’s village of Nanpur, the two of them built a school for small children and a centre to promote the dying arts of coastal Orissa. Artists, writers and poets from all over the world, but especially from India, would congregate at Derek’s house in the Pimlico district of London. For many Indians, it became a home away from home. Although he was in poor health, Derek insisted on coming to Nanpur. Perhaps he had sensed that the end was near.

A Souzan Puzzle

Fake paintings of dead artists are big business. One of the easiest to copy was Francis Newton Souza, whose works now sell in the crores. A huge controversy has risen over a supposed portrait he did of another artist, Mumbaiite Suruchi Chand, which is up for auction. An art critic claims it is a fake, since it is dated 1956 and Suruchi only met him in the early 1980s. What does Suruchi have to say? “He did 38 portraits of me, but he did not leave me a single one!” she replies. Somebody is clearly sitting on a fortune and it is not Souza’s muse, Suruchi. Pity.

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