Forty days without a sip


The Lenten Season is that time of the year when liquor outlets and eateries rework their strategies and menus to offset their losses, writes MICHAEL FISHER

The law of abstinence requires Christians from 18 years and above to abstain from eating meat on Fridays and adults to abstain from meat and alcohol for all 40 days of Lent, says Fr Avinash Rebello, parish priest of Holy Spirit church, Margao.

There were various forms of abstinences, one of them was the `bulè’ decree. This decree was meant for high level visitors, and in some cases for special chronic alcoholics who were exempted from the pangs of fasting.

Issuing the bulè at times would offset the low prices of fish, chicken and liquor which went up. In fact, till the early 1980s, fasting the 40 days had a downward effect in some ancillary sectors of the local economy.

Luis D’Souza, owner of the 100-year-old Hotel Vinite, who is also a well known says the price of fish and chicken soared soon after the church loosened fasting rules in the 1950s, quoting customers in their 80s. This news has been circulating in the taverns which have converted to bars since then.

He said, according to the grapevine during that time in the 1950s, alcohol retailers had made a secret pact with the church to prop up the booze market that ultimately alters local economics.

The story goes like this, says Luis. For a donation, the church issues a permit called bulè (in Portuguese) to chronic alcoholics. Many took advantage of this bulè, even non-Christians found a way to purchase a bulè for their Christian brothers. Some financially starved churches would be liberal in issuing bulès. The result: retail wine shops saw the intake improving by 30 per cent from the normal decline of 90 per cent during Lent.

This `Lentpolitik’ has come down the ages, and year-on-year the alcohol market during Lent improved to 50 per cent. The bulè also allowed for eating meat on Fridays, he says. Seeing the bulè take control of the liquor market during Lent, the Archdiocese put a stop on issuing bulès, summoning Catholics to use their own discretion. So now it is left to them on how to accept the Holy month of Lent.

The chic and rustic looking Hotel Vinite attracts cosmopolitan guests and visitors, especially foreigners. “That’s why we don’t feel it is Lent, “says Luis, a Christian. The table occupancy is the same during lent.

The bulè may be a humdinger of a tale, says owner of Margao-based wine retail store Cintubro, Victor Fernandes.  During this time of the year, Cintubro witnesses a 30 per cent overall drop in sales. Vaz Enterprise, another wine store from the Portuguese era, sees a 30 to 35 per cent drop in sales in the 40 days of Lent.

Rohan Amonkar of Tom Wines, Panaji mentions that, “Lent actually gives us time to rethink on marketing strategies, renovation, and face-lift the entire store or take a short holiday. We foresee a 25 to 30 per cent drop in sales.

With Lent upon us and the heat getting on, brands such rum and hard liquor are affected the most. What’s more surprising is the most chronic alcoholics give up drinking during Lent. Unsold stocks sold on returnable basis eventually come back with the onset of the off season.”

Some switch to ‘Uraak’, a lighter drink of the early cashew brew, and ‘dudhshree’, points out Jose Rocque Cruz, owner of his dad’s 90-year-old Taverna in the Margao new market. He opens early for those who need to kick start their daily grind.

Fr Saturino Dias of the Old Goa-based ‘Save a Life’ has another theory. He says the Friday meat ban applies to the 40 days of the Lenten fast period that ends on Holy Saturday. It also forbids eating soups or gravies made out of them.

However, he says it is noticed that some use Lent as an excuse to go on a healthy vegetarian diet. Salt and freshwater species of fish and shellfish are permitted as it does not have any meat taste.

Down The Road, the landmark restaurant at Panaji’s entrance, is switching to vegetarian dishes for its non-Christian clientele. “We are expecting a 30 per cent drop in sales during the Lenten period. We concoct new mocktails and exotic vegan dishes for our regular customers who are abstaining from alcohol and meat dishes. We import fresh blue berry to make cranberry juice which is in demand,” says its owner Lyndon.

While locals shy away from consuming alcohol during lent and cut back on entertainment spending, nothing much has changed on the volume level for pubs and bars has tourist footfalls keeps coming in.