Mahatma Gandhi looked out from a poster at me and I incredulously stared right back. He was just as I remembered except that he seemed to be a lot healthier and powerfully built! The Mahatma that I knew never had biceps this big. In fact he used to be downright skinny but today he seemed to have come of age. I went closer and looked again and realized that it was Mr. Jagan, one of the independent candidates standing for elections. He had shaved his head, grown a mustache, fixed himself a pair of dark spectacles, plastered a smile and was imploring “Vote for me”. I am sure that this trick would not have worked on anyone except on the truly absent minded but the attempt was laudable. If nothing else, it meant that Mahatma would be remembered on Election Day. An election which would decide the fate of the state and definitely that of Mr. Mahatma Biceps.
The very first inkling of the election was the gentle sprinkle of posters across the neighborhood. Faces that we had never seen earlier were now extolling the virtues of their leader. The leader presumably was self anointed because his party had not nominated him yet to contest. The leader clad in virginal whites occupied most of the real estate within the poster. A dash of flowers around his neck completed the ensemble. Around him was a galaxy of his followers faces gazing adoringly at the audience.
In fact the election commission had not even announced the dates yet. But this was the art of gentle persuasion, a reminder to the ones that were watching. The fact that the watchers existed I found a trifle disturbing.
One had to be particularly observant to know that an election was coming. People who had never found the time for each other now stopped and spoke in hushed circles. Auto drivers often times sullen, grew more animated. Overnight the roads seemed to be wearing new jet black tees with yellow stripes. Potholes were fixing themselves with mystifying quickness. Street lights which had lost their luster were now suddenly reborn illuminating stretches that had disappeared from our memories. Water flowed again almost every other day wetting our parched tanks. Garbage kept mysteriously teleporting out without reappearing in other places. Electricity got rid of its convulsions without intervention and now confidently surged inside our houses. The average citizen was more than a little concerned about this prodigal return.
Out of the blue, the election commission dropped the bombshell that elections would be held within three weeks. Everything made sense as the kaleidoscope around us assembled itself into a smooth mirror. Traffic picked up as politicos and their cohorts perambulated about with frenzied ambitions. The worthiness of each candidate was promoted with ruthless abandon and posters multiplied themselves in a rabid rash across the landscape. Trees, buildings, parks, shops and every possible upright structure declared their loyalty in undeniable terms.
Radios perked up their morning conversations by reminding us of our electoral responsibilities. The local TV channels were of course not so subtle. Their panel of experts predicted the results thus completely upstaging the election commission. Elections had replaced the sun in terms of importance and we were everyday treated to its high voltage munificence. Newspapers had fattened themselves with full page glossy advertisements proclaiming the virtues of our current rulers.
Sunday shopping was again a wholesome affair. My vegetable vendor was extremely courteous and while filling my bags, he casually remarked that a member of his tribe was contesting the elections. “Oh? Are the lists out already?” I asked of him. With a wink of his eye, he dismissed my naivety and said “wait and watch”. The fruit shop had garnished itself with gaily green streamers dripping from its awning thus announcing its chosen one.
Election discounts had taken root in all establishments. The coffee shop grandiosely announced two coffees for the price of one (seats not included). Our favorite eat out place was offering ballot paper parathas (essentially flat square wheat rolls). A man who was my waving in the road acquaintance, crossed over to my side, spoke to me at length on the virtues of voting for the right candidate and went away on his merry campaign.
The TRP for soap operas nosedived while endless pre election analyses flooded every conceivable medium.
Election Day was two weeks away and the pace picked up. Autos ran amok crisscrossing the area from dawn to dusk with loudspeakers turned up at the highest volume. The driver threw leaflets out at random waiting for people to pick up which never seemed to happen. Monotonically he spoke into the microphone and reminded us of the sacrifices that his candidate had made for the betterment of humanity. From time to time he would unburden his vehicle of a few thousand leaflets and drop them in the lobby of a hotel. He never spoke but instead glared at the bemused staff and drove off never once looking back. A waiter adroitly pushed the stack into a corner where it resembled a new fangled potted plant and normal service resumed.
A large group of volunteers stopped at my house and introduced themselves. A girl came forward and requested me to vote for her father. I asked her “Who is your father?” She assured me that I would not know him because this was the first time he was contesting! I was now quite perplexed and asked her “how can I vote for him then?” She assured me that it was no problem at all, thrust a metal badge that had the party logo into my hands and said “now you will never be confused”. The cavalcade continued on to spread their gospel to my unsuspecting neighbors.
A different group stopped by in the evening and I was rewarded with two plastic buckets for merely standing guard outside. It turned out that the candidate had sponsored recycling containers for every household with his achievements inscribed in bold lettering across the bottom. My wife’s approval of the quality of the buckets was a major pre electoral victory for the candidate.
Indubitably garbage had a huge role to play in these elections.
It was the last week before E-Day and the poll machine was in full swing. Every day our mailbox was full of flyers and leaflets. An elderly neighbor asked me who I was voting for. Before I could open my mouth to answer, she rattled off a list of achievements of her candidate. She told me in no uncertain terms that I would never find someone so worthy and it is very important that I vote for him. As soon as she transferred her attention to another unsuspecting passerby I slipped away unnoticed.
Other stranger things started happening. My newspaper delivery became sporadic. Maid servants would not show up in the mornings at all. The people who cleaned the roads regularly were MIA! After much painstaking detective work and I have to admit I was no Sherlock Holmes, I realized that they had all been recruited for campaigning. Each of them was paid well and trained on what to shout, scream or holler. To my everlasting surprise, I found out that they were working for all parties simultaneously!
Human capital management was taught during the elections every single day and we were fortunate to learn it from the masters.
Another group of people passed without even bothering to look in my direction. Unable to withstand this affront, I followed them and ask them which party they represented. A leaflet was thrust into my hands and they walked on without breaking their step. I was totally perplexed and reading the leaflet did nothing for my state of mind. But it was clear they had me buttonholed. A straggler in the group saw my confusion and said “Sir, please don’t worry, we know you will not vote for us. We will not think anything less of you for doing it. We understand your family compulsions and your social status”. Eternal questions dogged me after this fateful meeting. Should I vote at all? If they already know which way I will vote, should I just pick a candidate at random? What use am I in this world?
Every candidate I realized was intimately aware of the caste, sub-caste, religion, family background, net worth and political affiliations of every voter in the area. Big data just crawled into a hole and was left to die.
It was the last day before the elections and the area was completely deserted. Poster publishers were busy celebrating the tremendous uptick in their revenues. A somber mood had spun a web on all of us. We now understood what was required of us. We had finally realized our place in the electoral map. “We will, we will Vote you” rang in our brains. Our political masters had done their job and now we had to do ours. But I just had a sinking feeling of missing something that was vitally important. It gnawed at me the entire day and it hit me like an avalanche just before I went to sleep.
I sat bolt upright and recounted the fact that I had never met a candidate yet! If that were not mind blowing, I was not even aware of any issues that were discussed by their representatives. This shocking fact kept me awake the entire night.
I feverishly went through their manifestoes but what I found was a rich compendium of their past achievements. There however was a silver lining of my frenzied forensic exercise; I could finally retire in life! I was promised breakfast, medicines, cooking gas and electricity for free! Banks would politely decline to accept any more unpaid installments on my loan. I could get a laptop, bicycle and even gold bars if I asked for them.
Paradise was back in town!
I woke up in the morning, had my bath and got ready. I looked at the mirror and slipped a confident mask on my face. If anyone were to look at me, I was prepared. My neatly pressed clothes would signify that I was ready for battle. My erect posture would signify that I was honest and upright. My smile would amplify my openness to change. My eyes would be clear and make contact with others giving them an impression of being decisive. I would stride forward taking my place in the line and wait for my turn. I would venture into the voting booth, press the button and return back with a look of a royal Bengal tiger cleaning its whiskers. I was urbane, commanding and in complete control of myself.
The feeling lasted until I stepped into the voting booth. Then the events of the last two weeks came rushing back. The party logos swam around in a crazy circle in front of my eyes. The butterflies in my stomach had by now become steel hornets buzzing, probing and piercing. Questions about my usefulness in society surfaced like a helium filled ball thrust into the depths of the Laurentian abyss. I felt my hands reaching for the button but my vision blurred at the same time. I heard a loud buzzing sound and someone told me that my turn was done. I was shaking inside but like a true electoral champion I refused to show it. I smiled at everyone in the line and walked slowly passed them. It was a relief that the election was finally over. It was a bigger relief that I did not know who I had voted for.
Five years will go by before the electoral theater repeats itself. Produced and directed by our political overlords, it is simply the most real life drama ever. Carried out in broad daylight, it is an audacious attempt to create a new motion picture out of the same unwavering theme. The Oscars cannot hold a candle to the eclectic cocktail whipped up by skilled practitioners of the art.
The voters in case you missed it are the props.
Hercules Poirot himself would be unable to find the missing issues. This is the longest running drama in the world and beats the Mousetrap by five clear years. Heroes and heroines star abundantly but villains are conspicuously absent.
The elections are finally over and life returns back to normal. Soap operas have taken center stage. Mahatma Gandhi, God bless his soul, has regained his undiluted presence among us. Politicians have disappeared into the sunset. Problems like termites tenaciously remain.
I leave you with a very fine acceptance speech from our wise leaders:
Friends, thank you very much for your faith in me. I knew that I could count on you just like I did five years ago. I will try my hardest to be a minister so that I can serve you better. You will see that our state will become one of the finest in the country. There will be justice for all and no person will remain hungry as long as I am alive. Long live the people for you have spoken!
Thanks for reading and i always appreciate comments.
Life stories are always about real life experiences which are collected from real people. Sometimes I do it myself and at other times I get it second hand. Names/places are generally fictitious so that the subject’s identity is not compromised.
In case you are interested in my collection of life stories, they can be found here: