Wine and divine

S. Madhusudhana Rao

One of the interesting features the Andhra Pradesh government has unveiled in its new excise policy is to discourage liquor dealers from naming their outlets after Gods and Goddesses. The new policy that comes into effect from July 1 and is valid for two years is aimed at boosting the revenue of cash-strapped state through, well, liquor sale.

More outlets, easy availability of Indian-made liquor in small tetra packs even at supermarkets and malls are other features of the excise policy. First for the residuary state of AP, the new initiatives that are said to be “consumer-friendly” are expected to fetch Rs 14,000 crores annually to the Chandrababu Naidu government.

 However, what could be considered as a footnote to the excise policy directives is, the state government doesn’t want the retail outlets to sell spirits in shops bearing divine names. Though it is sensible and desirable, the excise department officials seem to have expressed reservations about issuing such orders. So, it is now a simple, nice and sweet advice to liquor vendors who apply for permits not to include the Hindu pantheon while naming their shops. It is to be seen how far the outlets will comply with the request. If they do, it will be a trend-reversal and should be applauded. For, it can pave way for removing all names with religious connotations and references to castes and communities from signboards all across the country.

Though none goes to a particular shop that is brandishing a divine name in bold letters or patronizes an outlet because it is named after a widely-worshipped deity, the fact remains that even without godly mention in the name of the shop it can still sell. Then why we are obsessed with having divine names for all kinds of shops and retail outlets?

The plausible reasons are: deep faith in Almighty and invoking Him or Her for the success of business by naming the establishment accordingly. However, we should not forget how these shop names serve an important purpose in a land where street names and numbers are conspicuously absent and even if they are there how they are lost behind posters and overgrown trees and bushes. Shops with popular deity’s names are best geographical indicators and landmarks to look for an address.

While it is a fundamental right of every businessman to name his establishment the way he wants as long as it “doesn’t hurt the feelings of others”, will it ever be possible to see a-matter-of-fact ‘neutral’ names on shops and small business establishments?  Not in the near future, we know. But liquor shops on the name of Lakshmi, Balaji, Sai, Vinayaka, and many more Gods and Goddesses look grotesque.

In fact, it is juxtaposing two improbable things — spirits and spirituality – to cash in on the weakness of the mind. Cocktails of names and words are totally avoidable. Boozers, anyway, throng to the nearest available outlet to buy their drinks irrespective of its name. A “Wine Shop”   surely sells as much as, say, “Balaji Brandy Shop.”

In many countries and places, establishments, except branded ones, don’t carry any attributed name. A provisions store is known as a grocery and accordingly it is displayed on a board. A barber shop is just a hair cutting salon, and so on.

Such neutrality in shop names will help enhance religious respect. Indiscriminate use of Hindu Gods and Goddesses’ names for commercial purposes –which no other religion will allow – is demeaning, to say the least. If a beginning is made with liquor outlets against bringing in the Almighty’s name for business purpose, it is worth an effort. The AP initiative is good cheer, indeed!

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