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|February 28, 1998||
Oh, for an ink-remover...
I didn't sleep a wink on of the eve of election day. Just suppose that, at the very last minute, I vote Congress (hahahaha... I know, but do you know how neurotic minds work?), and instead of Manmohan Singh, the Bihari Bandicoot or Sonia Gandhi becomes PM? Suppose I fortify the BJP (hahahaha... what an impossibility), and they embark on a Congress-like secularist agenda? Suppose I vote independent, and s/he backs the Samajwadi Party or the Janata Dal or any of the travesties that make up the United Front? And so the permutations went on till dawn...
Usually, in the home of any Bollywood celebrity, there is no such thing as postal mail and hand-delivered documents reaching the destined persons (except, naturally, those arriving from the income tax department). At least in my house, every piece of paper, most of which is fan mail for the mater, piles up in a carton which the mater's very alert and scrupulous secretary doesn't sift through for weeks on end. That must have been the fate of those tiny cards which inform us what our serial numbers are and where our polling booth is.
Since all the super-conscientious members of my family had already done their bit for democracy by 7.30 am and had gone off to have breakfast at a restaurant, your politically-alert and late-rising columnist and her equally-vociferous and late-rising brother were left to fend for themselves. Since the brother knows that your energetic psychopath doesn't yet own, nor can drive, a car, he called and said, I'll take you to your polling booth, it must be the same as mine.
I rang my neighbour's doorbell to inquire about the said cards. The visibly sleepy-eyed and angry man told me that he hadn't received any cards but that the booth for our building was now situated at Raj Bhavan. We had progressed in life.
At 11 am, armed with a passport and ration card, I entered the gates of the governor's residence and made way to booth No 30. Though room 29 had a queue of 20, mine had none. I felt smug. We entered -- to two telecameraman and five lensmen frowning at the intrusion. Before reaching the poll officer, a wave of smelly shirts appeared from nowhere and shoved me aside: The governor had arrived.
I loudly muttered, And THIS is supposed to be A DEMOCRACY? No one paid any heed. I muttered some more and louder yet. The brother winced in embarrassment. The photowallah said, Bai, aap aise kyun kar rahin hain? Yeh hamara kaam hai (or: Bitch, shut up and let us do our job). I relented: the governor's macho and moustached ADC had just flashed me a brilliant smile. What to do? I have this thing for gold-braided uniforms...
While I was busy making eyes at him, and the brother was trying his best to ignore it, and the poll officers were loudly playing up to the camera, Dr PC Alexander did his bit for the Republic. The smashing ADC left. And scanning the voters list, I found that I had been, probably deliberately, misdirected by the sadist next door.
We went back to my building to butter up our omniscient gurkha whom I had earlier ignored. Somewhere opposite Kamala Nehru Park, he maintained. Two no-entries and two wrong-turns later, we arrived at the Canon School in Malabar Hill. There were several booths in the school. I tried the booths on the ground floor: Five Parsees, all with ID cards, were being rejected for the spelling mistakes in the voters list. Twenty minutes of chaos and din later, I was told, Wrong room. Ditto, the next three rooms.
We went to the first floor. The Lady With The List confirmed my brother's and my buildings, scanned the names -- and negated our existence. The brother said, Look again, we are the Press (the bro gets mucho vicarious thrills from my job). Miraculously, his name turned up. Where's mine, I yelled. Dripping frost, she said, Bai, it's not up to me -- now let the Name vote. The Name voted. I screamed, I'm going to sue that bloody Gill! The Lady With The List said, Bai, zaroor kara, now let the queue move.
In the car (parked a mile away since it was barred from near polling stations even if there be space), the 1,000-watt bulb hovering uncertainly over my head lit up. Let's go and check out the building I used to live in, I beamed. Its gurkha said, Woh idhar hi kidhar aas paas hai. Bingo! Let's scour the places I once used, said I. Three schools later, I was back roaring at the gurkha. The interested crowd which gathered, dispatched us to the Road Transport Office at Tardeo.
The RTO had a booth inside -- but not the building I needed. Walking the 500 metres to the car, I saw a certain candidate with some very shady types. I hope you didn't vote for him, I said. The brother demurred. When we drove to the municipal school by the RTO, the cops stated, No entry for cars. I hiked over three garbage heaps, was barked at by five dogs, chased by one, and nudged by two cows before I got to the poster. Wrong station, again. By now, I was drenched in sweat, and really smelling some.
When I returned to the car, the brother was comfortably finishing his cone of mango ice cream. I roared, Move your butt. Probably in sheer panic at spending the whole day visiting dubious venues, his bulb flashed on: There's just one thing left -- let's go to the election office at Bane Compound. This time, I stayed put in the car with the ice cream. Half an hour later, he gloated, I told you we should have done this at the very beginning (he hadn't said a word) -- you're registered near the Air-Conditioned Market, Tardeo.
There were four stations near the AC Market -- none of which applied to me, as I learnt after many high-noon hikes. I hope India knows what I suffered for her. I desperately needed a hit of tobacco by now. The sympathetic paanwala told me to take the next left turn for the sole remaining site. And, surprise, surprise! we found ourselves back at the RTO. Now, I really let it rip. The brother shot back, Oh yeah? And who says I have to chauffeur you around, anyway? What d'you think I am? Your husband? I let it pass -- the ekso-bees guthka was working.
We returned to the Haji Ali no-more-Circle. Let's systematically go through all the poll stations, he advised. I said: You mean, I'll sit 500 metres away in the car and you trudge to and fro through umpteen booths in this heat. He rolled up his eyes.
The second booth I slumped into (nowhere near the AC Market) had my name. And the brother's as well. There was no other voter in sight. I offered my documents for inspection. The officer looked at me as if I had dropped all my marbles. The ballot papers had 10 or so candidates (only three of whom I knew). After the slow and delicate origami folds, I was sent to the propped-up cardboard. At last I knew how a man feels at those erect urinals...
I did my bit, but couldn't refold the paper to its original origami standards. The officer clucked and offered to do it for me. Suspicious, I sneered, Oh, so you can see who I voted for? He smirked, Bai, you've just signed your name on the ballot and I wrote your registration number on it; if we wanted to... I stomped out.
I announced to the brother, I want to check out another old booth, too. By now, he would have gone to Srinagar just to avoid the nagging, so we went to my old school. Both our names were there. I said, If only we had an ink-remover, we could have cast two votes each. He said, I, three. I glowered at him. Hurriedly, he asked, Who did you finally vote for? I said, Ours is a protected, confidential ballot, didn't you know?
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