One of the longest and most disciplined queues of the world will be found in front of the alcohol shops in Kerala. When I was young, those shops used to be called IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) shops. Later the name, as called by people, became beverage shops. I don’t know what they are called now since I have become a rare visitor to god’s own country, much as I’m in love with that ‘country’.
‘Consumption of alcohol should be made a confessable crime,’ reads a headline in today’s Malayala Manorama newspaper [29 Jan]. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference [KCBC] has made that demand.
Kerala ranks quite high in many statistical data. Like in suicide, alcoholism, literacy, sex ratio, lunacy, road accidents, and economic growth. And, according to me, the queues in front of alcohol shops. The various Malayalam TV channels have made fun of that disciplined queue many a time in satirical shows. And I personally verified it by standing in one such queue during my last brief holiday in Kerala a few weeks back. It was a delightful experience standing in such a queue. Everyone was in a hurry. To buy their bottle(s). In discussing their job prospects. There were also a few individuals who knew how to circumvent the queue by approaching the right persons to get their order added to the queuer’s list.
I’m not surprised that the Catholic Church is feeling jealous of such a queue. The Church would love to see even a minuscule fraction of such a disciplined queue in front of the confessional of the local parish church.
“I have sinned,” the penitent should say. “Through my own fault,” he should add according to the latest demand by KCBC. Instead of the thrice breast-beating old formula of “My fault, my fault, my grievous fault.”
“I drank yesterday,” the penitent should say.
“Drinking is a grievous fault, don’t you know, according to the rules of the Church,” the priest will say. “Your penance is to recite Our Father and Hail Mary ten times.”
The drinker goes and recites Our Father and Hail Mary ten times in the church. And then he goes directly to the most disciplined queue in the world. Tomorrow’s confession will absolve him of his sin.
What the Catholic Church in Kerala is trying to accomplish by making drinking a sin is beyond my understanding just as what the church does anything is. I don’t know what confession means today because I made my last confession decades ago. But I have asked people who do get their souls cleansed through that ritual and they tell me that the penances are the same as I used to get in those (my) prehistoric days. Recite mantras to cleanse your soul of all the sins.
Confession. The word brings to my mind the Malayalam movie, Kuttisrank. It won many awards including the national award sponsored by the Govt of India. There is a scene in which a young woman goes to confess. “I have done the dirty act,” she says. “With whom,” asks the priest. She is silent. The priest insists. Because the priest thinks she had sexual intercourse with the hero of the movie whom the priest cannot endure in the least. She had never had any sexual intercourse. She had only the fantasy of the intercourse. And perhaps the masturbation. [That perhaps is my imagination which is in tune with the movie.] When the priest keeps insisting on the name, the woman says, “Delete that sin.” And she walks out.
She is the heroine of the movie. She deserves to be. Not because she walked out of the confessional. But because she had the personality to understand what religion is, what life is, what one’s real responsibility is.
The priest in the movie is a bully. As most priests are. He is only interested in manipulating the entire parish so that it is under his control. The hero in the movie will never come under his control. So he uses the woman’s confession in order to haunt the man even more vindictively.
That’s what confession means, I think.
And I know what I’m speaking of. There was a time when I was an alcoholic. And I too went in for confession to cleanse my soul. And I know how the priests, including the principal of the college (where I worked as a lecturer) who egged me on to the confessional, made use of my confession in order to cut off my drinking water (and did much else). When I started carrying water in two buckets for over a kilometre in the hilly terrain of Shillong, the priests used their political clout to get the water queue longer and undisciplined so that I would find it difficult to get even drinking water. Were they thinking that I should be denied of the water to be added to my whisky?
No, eventually when I overcame my alcoholism they continued to persecute all the more. Simply because they wanted me to be a meek sheep in the church. Following the flock. Following the Good Shepherd. I was the black sheep. According to them.
Well, I really didn’t mean to make this a boring post telling the story of my bleak days. But KCBC revived the memories.
Can KCBC (most of whose members must be taking a couple of Vat 69 or something better every evening) bring more discipline into Kerala than what’s seen in front of the alcohol shops by making drinking a confessable sin?
Confession is a formula. It would have worked in those ancient days when people were simple and could be controlled with mantras. Can it work today? Can the Church convert the mantra into counselling? Meaningful counselling? Does the Church have the intellectual capacity to do that?
What a list of sins can do is to increase the guilt feeling. The miserable Catholic drinker (whose problem lies elsewhere, including in the dark social areas made darker by the Church with all its corrupt practices like in admissions and appointments to its institutions) is sure to increase the volume of his order when he goes to the disciplined queue again. Alcohol is a good escapist cure from guilt feelings.
Can the priests in the Catholic churches redeem the drinkers of Kerala with the latest sin added to the list of grievous sins?
By the way, I am not an alcoholic now, thanks to my leaving the Church and its priests.