No alcohol? Not even a beer?

'Sorry," Ravi says, shaking his head, "today is a dry day."

I raise an eyebrow. "A what?"

"A dry day. No alcohol today. It is a government rule in Kerala. You can't sell any alcohol."

"Not even beer?"

Ravi smiles and wobbles his head in apology. "Not even beer. It's the same on the first day of every month. So people don't spend all of their wages at the bottle shop."

Well, this is interesting. I haven't had an alcohol ban forced on me since that secret party my brother and I threw in high school. But now, 15 years on, I'm in India and it's happening again. Oh well, I guess it can wait until tomorrow.

"You know," Ravi says, reading my mind, "tomorrow is a dry day as well. It's Gandhi's birthday, so everywhere in India is not allowed to sell alcohol."

They say you don't know what you've got until it's gone - in this case, you don't know what you want until it's banned.

It's about 35 degrees outside, 1000 per cent humidity, and a cold beer would be just about the most fantastic thing that could pass my lips at this time. But booze is on the naughty list today, so it's not going to happen.


Australians, it's clear, like a drink. But you realise how much we like a drink only when you travel through countries that aren't quite so enthusiastic about getting stonkered. Regardless of the alcohol ban, drinking isn't a popular activity outside the major cities in India, and even when it is, it's behind closed doors in dark bars that make you feel as though you're doing something very wrong. It can be tough explaining to locals why we want a drink so often.

Almost everything that happens in Australia goes with alcohol. We can't have a celebration without champagne. Can't have a barbecue without a few beers. Can't have a nice meal without a bottle of wine. Can't have a game of cricket without a full carton. And can't end a hot day without a cold stubby.

Ravi wants to know if we have dry days in Australia, and I tell him we have two - Good Friday and Christmas Day - and they're treated very seriously. As in, they're a serious inconvenience. So serious that there are huge lines outside the bottle shops every Dry Day Eve, with people stocking up on mountains of booze like frightened refugees sweeping supermarket shelves, preparing to bunker down for nuclear war.

January 26 in India is Republic Day, pictured, a public holiday to celebrate the signing of the country's constitution. It's also an official Dry Day. In Australia, of course, the same date is Australia Day, which is unofficially a Very Wet Day. You can just picture the short career of any politician brave enough to suggest we follow India's lead.

Still, it's unusual to have two dry days back-to-back in India, which makes our Keralan experience something of an alcohol-free marathon. There are no protests, of course, at this grave infringement of our basic rights because it's not much of an issue for the general population. People at restaurants in the hot Keralan evening drink fresh lime with soda while eating spicy food, and couldn't seem to care less.

And they're not alone in this indifference to drinking. In some countries every day is a dry day. Try Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or Bangladesh - although it's a negotiable concept if you know where to look.

Even some Europeans don't embrace the concept with the passion we do. Go out to a bar in Italy and when it starts to get late, you notice the strangest thing: no one's drunk. They might be a little tipsy, but they're not rolling in the aisles. That would be bad form. Wine is savoured. Cocktails are a one-for-the-night kind of affair.

But at least that means you can go hang out in a bar and socialise in the way we know. In Kerala it requires a rethink, especially given there's a game of cricket on TV in the hotel lobby. How are you supposed to spend time with friends in front of the big game without the help of a cleansing ale?

It quickly becomes apparent that cricket isn't quite as exciting as I thought it was. Nothing happens! None of the Indians, Ravi included, seems to mind, though; they're all crowded around the telly, examining the intricacies of Yusuf Pathan's bowling action. It's all I can do to smile and feign interest.

I'll get by without a beer today. Tomorrow, as well. But the day after that, I'll happily break the drought.

What do you think of Australia's drinking culture compared with other countries around the world? Post a comment below.