Friday, 16 May 2014

Stephan C.Hmar, Agartala, 16.05.2014

Today was a vote counting day for the 2014 Lok Sabha Election. Some friends and I were appointed as a counting micro-observer here in Agartala. It was in connection with our appointment as micro-observer for the election held on 7th April, last month.

As promised by the Election department, a pick-up bus with a big writing Swaraj Majda was sent to the main gate of our residential complex at 5AM sharp, this morning.

I boarded the pick-up bus around 5:30AM. Soon after all the other appointed counting micro-observers took their respective seats, the engine started. Then, as odd as I was, I realized I forgot my I-Card, without which  entering the counting hall was not possible. Panickly, I shouted, mera I-Card bul gya, and I climbed down the bus, telling the driver to keep on driving and waited for me by the other gate, close to my quarter.

I retraced back to my quarter hurriedly. My wife quickly gave me the yellow I-Card. Without checking its authenticity I hurried back to the bus.

We reached the counting place, Umakanta Academy, at 6:15 AM. It was already crowded. The day-labourers distributed three cards---tea, breakfast and lunch cards. We quickly exhausted the validity of the first two cards---tea and breakfast---by eating one boiled egg, one cup tea, two roti and sabji, and a banana.

Then we queued up through the entrance, where tall CRPFs stood with their long rifles and AK-47s, scanning each one thoroughly. They let everyone leave their mobile phones, wallets, watches, and belts in the collection room. My turn for scanning came. I passed the test. But my I-Card was different from the rest. The CRPF asked what I-Card it was. When I checked it, it was that I-Card issued to me on that election day, 7th April, 2014 valid for the day 7th April, 2014. (Why is the election department so colour deficient. They could have choose a different colour for election day and counting day. Why yellow always. For example, they could have choose white and black, red or yellow, why yellow all along? That was my angry thought).  There was no way to squeeze in forcefully or to bargain.

So, I rushed back home by hiring an auto, got the authentic I-Card and rushed back to the counting hall. Everyone had entered the hall by now. I told the CRPF gatekeeper, mera I-Card bul giya, isliye late huong. He said, chinta mat karna, aap mara saat haai. After parting with my phone, wallet and watch, I climbed up the stairs and entered my assigned hall---hall number 4. I looked for my assigned table against my name. It was written:

Stephan C. Hmar, AAO, A.G. (Audit) ----------RESERVE.

I asked the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) what it meant. He said that I was reserved and would be called when needed. He pointed towards the chairs where 7 to 10 other reserve guys had already taken their seats. We all wonder why the election commission appoints such an excess micro-observers, so as to have such a big reserves. We all thought it was a useless expenditures---from both sides. One reserved guy said, this is India.  

My mind said, what a fruitless task I was messing up with.

Counting started, but we, the reserved guys still sat there. My back hurts. My neck stiffened. The loudspeaker sounds deafened my ears. I walked out of my allotted room.

Whole day, we were cut off from the rest of the world. No phones. Had my phone been with me, I could talk to someone to lighten the situation. No watch. I did not know what time it was. I only knew it was longer than eternity. There was a small temporary shop where they sell paan, cakes and tea. But my purse with the money was in the collection room. I knew the far-ness of those eatables without money and thought how we would fill our stomach without money.

Maybe, having nothing to do, to be a reserved guy, in a cut-off place was boring. I walked up and down, up and down the school. And before I realized, I was looking at the smallest details of the airs, the scenery, the ponds and the grasses. Soon, while the political agents were busy noting down the numbers of votes cast for each party, I started writing down the things that were very much there, but having micro significance to all of us.

I said to myself, I am a micro-observer, am I not? I started to observe micro things.

Umakanta is a big school, way bigger than you would imagine to be in this small town, Agartala. It spread over a perfectly flatted land, measuring over 10 acres (about 40460 square meter area), maybe more. I am not good at estimating things. My only estimation is it is very big. The school takes the form of a big rectangle, with big ponds, and lawn in the middle. Walking along the corridor from one end to the other end is a tiresome attempt.

I noted down the names of the people on the hanging frames. The well-groomed Galileo Galilie (1564-1642), the spec-ky Stephen Hawking (1942-), the brownish black P.C. Roy (1861-1944), the kind-of familiar old face Madam Maria Montessori (1870-1947), Sukanta Bhattacharjee (1926-1947), Kaji Nazrul Islam (1844-1876) and many more names till I ran out of paper.

One man said to me, dada, muje paper dijega.. I did not reply him. First, I did not have paper. Second, I was not his dada, he looked over 100 years older than me. What did he see in me to call me dada?

Inside the room allotted to media people was a big TV, showing live NDTV: Narendra Modi-272, Rahul-55, Kejriwal-3. It was clustered by people. They always blocked my view. 

I went out again. After every 5 meter distance, stood tall CRPFs with guns. I was thinking about what they were thinking. Were they thinking only of who to shoot with their guns?

At 1:30 PM, I went to the lawn where they distribute lunch packs. I looked for my last card---the Lunch Card---but could not locate it. I checked, re-checked the whole five pockets I have on me, but it was no more. Oh! What a bad day. I had to quarrel with the day-labourers to get the lunch pack without the card.

Counting finished at 2 PM. And the announcer announced the votes polled for each candidate.

1. Mr So and so got 16000 votes
2. Mr So and so and so got 16002 votes
3. Mr So and so got 50 votes
4. Mr so and so got 4 votes
5. NOTA got 150 votes.

I said to myself, Oh! Dreams and realities could be so far yet so close, so close yet so far.

I went to collect my belongings---wallet, mobile, belt and watch. I looked into my wallet. O ho! It was empty. Quickly I realized that it was empty, penniless after paying that auto driver on my way back to collect the I-Card. Bad day! I tried switching on my mobile. It flickered once with a message---no battery, plug in a charger---and went dead.

From the road, I could see one ATM sign at a distance of about 100 meters. I walked towards it as withdrawing money for fare would be better than asking from friends. The May sun in Agartala is extremely hot. I walked under it, sweating and thirsty. I reached the ATM, at last, and insert my card and typed the amount. A message appeared:

 This ATM is temporarily out of service. Please go to the nearest ATM for    withdrawal.

Shit! Shit! The nearest ATM I knew could be about 300 meters far. I could not take it any more, I was so angry. I stood beneath the sun, looking at the sky and count 1 to 100.

I went back to the main gate of the counting hall, all my friends had left. I chewed my teeth, and walked 300 meters to the next ATM. I withdrew money and hired an auto to my quarter for 75 rupees. When we reached, I paid the driver 100 rupees note. He gave me 20 rupees change and asked for 5 rupees. I said I had none. He said he had neither. The only solution was to close the deal with 80 rupees. Loss = 5 rupees.

Wearily I walked to my quarter thinking only of laying flat on the bed. The door was locked. I did not have the key with me. I forgot the key in the morning.

Angry! Angrier! Angriest!

I went to my friend in the compound to use his phone to call my wife. He said, oh! So sorry, I just finished my balance calling my wife.

I went back and sat on my doorstep, waiting for my wife who would return from her office at 6 PM. Ants and caterpillars crawled on me, and my whole body itches.

My wife reached at 6:15 PM. I looked at her and I counted one to one hundred in Chinese. She asked whether I was tired. I said, keep quiet! Zip! Zip!

She opened the room, and I switched on the TV, Headlines today:
2014 Lok Sabha Election final result:
Info available: 543/543 seats.

Current went off. Bull shit.

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