As the countdown to the National Elections commenced, we came across a number of E-mails and SMSs, advising everyone to cast their votes as soon as the polling begins. When we got to our polling stations early in the morning, the realization suddenly sank in that a whole lot of people had access to the same advice. Anyway, since polling hadn’t started a good forty five minutes after the given time, we decided to go back home and give it another try a little later. When we came back around 1 PM , a kilometer long queue again confronted us; we were lucky though to get ushered in on a senior citizen basis. My polling booth was on the first floor of a Government School, where a U-shaped line had been formed in the narrow corridor.
While waiting in line as it painfully inched its way towards the booth, I saw an acquaintance push his way through in the opposite direction. ‘ Fed up already,’ I asked him. ‘No’ he replied, ‘just taking time off to offer my Zohar prayers’. After a brief pause, he added’ Pray for my turn to come early.’
It was a pleasant surprise to see a large number of senior retired military officers standing patiently in line. I only saw one of them going directly into the polling booth mumbling ‘ Senior Citizen.’ Another senior officer confronted him mock-seriously, advising him to either cite his ex-Governor privilege or join the end of the queue like all the other senior citizens. ‘ You are still a child compared to me,’ he retorted , and unhesitatingly went in.
Despite the trying conditions and stifling heat, the enthusiasm in the air was infectious. A great amount of camaraderie was witnessed amongst strangers and one could see some snacks and drinks being distributed.
After an hour of painstakingly slow progress, a shout went up for ‘ any Government servants here.’ from the minders at the booth entrance. Two hands shot up and the person ahead of me in the queue, his face beaming at the prospects of an early vote, rushed towards the booth. Thirty seconds later, he sheepishly rejoined his position in the line, jaw drooping. With everyone looking at him askance, he briskly explained that he was asked to assist in polling duties to speed up the process. When pressed as to why he didn’t accept, considering that it would have made life easier for all those waiting in line, he explained that apart from the ‘khwari’ (nuisance) it entailed, he was concerned about its attendant legalities. And rightly so, for when he was coaxed back a little later for performing such duties till such time his own turn came, he was asked to furnish a certificate that he was voluntarily undertaking the job. Needless to say, he didn’t take the bait.
When I had joined the queue, there must have been some fifty or sixty odd people in line. It still took me nearly four hours to reach the polling area. Once inside, I noticed that the polling was lying exposed in the corner between the Polling Officer and the polling staff. It was only when someone from amongst the voters pointed this out rather loudly that a partition made from cardboard was hurriedly re-erected, followed by a grave announced: ‘ Now anyone who disturbs this will have to set it up himself.’ The other noteworthy aspect was that no one had been tasked to put the indelible ink on the thumb. I did see some voters doing it themselves, presumably to prove their voting credentials to their friends or to cash in on the many freebies being offered by various franchises.
I was still lucky to make it in four hours; my wife took an hour and a half longer to cast her vote owing to the even greater chaos prevailing on the ladies side. All in all, a hectic day but still satisfying, providing quite a relief to have finally made it past the post.