Heady encounter with an international wine shop

Heady encounter with an international wine shop

Heady encounter with an international wine shop

Rahul Bhandari, IAS

Our nation is a magnificent mosaic of multicultural, multilingual and varied geographical diversities which, according to a popular saying, change its hues every 5km. Thanks to the Election Commission, civil servants get an opportunity to explore unchartered territories in different states that generally fall outside the clichéd tourist circuits. The recent skirmishes in Meghalaya, the abode of clouds, unplugged the memories of my four-week stay in one of the small subdivisions of West Jaintia Hills district many years ago. The place is endowed with lush meadows, unending streams, waterfalls, and forest tracks. Also, it has a culturally rich society that believes in gender parity, matriarchal structures and matrilineal society.

The place has a distinct cultural aroma of its own. The air reverberates with energy, music, fun and frolic. The capital city is home to more than 300 music bands that excel in churning out both Bollywood and Hollywood numbers with equal ease. Of special interest is the repetitive tik-tik sound of the hand-held cutters for cracking open the beetle nut. The fermented fragrance of these nuts creates a heady concoction of sorts.

In the countryside, I came across beautifully decorated wooden churches constructed by missionaries almost a century ago. After the Sunday prayers, the day was open to celebrations with loud music blaring from the car stereos and people enjoying sumptuous meals accompanied with locally brewed drinks. The markets were closed, and the convoy of cars came to a grinding halt. The lively music gelled well with the salubrious climes of the hills and forests to create a picture postcard-like site.

While traveling in the area, a visit to a small border outpost in the evening still remains vividly etched in memory. The international border was often misused for smuggling cattle and indulging in the trade of coal. Despite our guards being on the vigil, this trade was an easy source of money for these nefarious elements. Travelling all day had made us thirsty after having consumed all the water bottles in our possession. The elixir of life is what we yearned for. After walking a considerable distance, we spotted a small shop on the Indian side in the middle of an absolutely uninhabited place. The signboard read: International Wine Shop. To our surprise, a middle-aged lady greeted us warmly and politely offered us beer bottles instead of water. She seemed to have run out of water bottles to our dismay.

The temptation was difficult to resist but the call of duty prevented us from indulging in the tempting offer of barley water. Seeing our hapless plight, she muttered something in the local language and yelled at the top of her voice, at which a boy came running across the border with two bottles of packaged cold drinking water manufactured in Bangladesh, a classic case of Indo-Bangla ties! On our query regarding her source of revenue in that place with no visible habitation in the vicinity, she simply smiled and told us that the “drink of the Gods has devotees all around the world”.

Without further ado and having satiated our appetite for water, we left for the next village pondering on the philosophy of international brotherhood and cooperation exhibited in totality by this innocuous international wine shop.

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