As the Covid wave recedes in India, a tide of hope rises in my heart. I hope it will be business as usual again for pubs and breweries. 

Autor: Ganesh Vancheeswaran 

It feels like I haven’t had beer at a brewpub in ages. Freshly brewed craft beer, its head slowly dissipating as I wet my mouth with the first few sips and smack my lips. 

The nightmare of Covid has kept all of India indoors for most of the time since it struck in March last year. Millions of shops and other businesses across India have remained more or less shut for months on end. Many people, including migrant workers, went back from the cities to their native towns and villages (many of them have still not returned). The corporate crowd could afford to keep working from home, though even that, for many, turned into misery soon; people are not used to staying cooped up indoors all day. A ghostly silence hung over bars, restaurants and pubs as the government mandate forced them to close. 

When the number of Covid cases started reducing in November or December of 2020, the lockdown was slowly eased across India. And businesses started breathing again. F&B establishments reopened (though they operated at half the capacity, considering physical distancing norms), and the crowds cautiously returned. The air was rich with laughter, the smell of food and the tinkle of glasses. My family and I hit Toit and Daffy’s, two brewpubs close to home. While the former has always been a favourite, the latter had opened recently and we wanted to check out the place and its beer. Sitting at these pubs, talking, chugging beer and nibbling at the food brought back similar memories that seemed to be from years ago but were actually from only 6 months earlier. 

The freedom was delicious. 

And then, the second wave of the pandemic struck; eerily, almost exactly a year after the first wave. And all of us scooted back home. Various states across India enforced a lockdown and shut everything down again. Since this wave was far more virulent than the earlier one and took several thousand lives across India, the panic was palpable everywhere. Several of my friends lost their close friends and family members to the disease. The entire nation was in the grip of misery, fear and anguish. The fact that the central government hadn’t, even after a whole year, got its act together, not only added to our collective misery but also angered us. The vaccination program doddered along after a few false starts. As the number of cases kept rising for week after week, one could sense that the nation was holding its breath, wondering when all this would end and we would win back our freedom – some control over our lives. 

I couldn’t help thinking that, just when we things had started limping back to normal, the pandemic had returned, shattering our hopes. 

It is only recently, as we set foot into June, that the pandemic started receding. The number of Covid cases plateaued and then, started reducing. The vaccination program has gathered steam in recent weeks. Vaccinating our population of more than a billion is going to take at least a full year from now. It is possible that the vaccination may not even reach some people. But at least, a majority of us are likely to be covered. 

With the situation improving, many states are easing the lockdown. Some states have allowed bars, restaurants and pubs to reopen, though only for a few hours during the day. In other states, pubs are open, but we are still not allowed to dine in; we have to make do with growlers. And then, of course, there is the industrially brewed and bottled beer available at liquor shops, but that’s not the same thing. Not by a long shot. 

Thankfully though, there are indications that bars and pubs will open for dining in soon. And that’s what I (along with thousands of other beer lovers across the country) am eagerly waiting for. Hopefully, it will be business as usual for all of us again. 

When that happens, I will raise a toast (or five) with my friends at my favourite pubs. I will greet the brewers and staff and congratulate them on holding on tight, all these months. I will feel the monsoon breeze on my face as I sip my favourite ale, stout and IPA. And I will taste freedom once more. 

Covid has made me realise that beer – especially craft beer – is not a drink, but an emotion. An emotion I badly want to feel again with friends soon.