Have you registered to vote? It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I hope.
Ah, the Indian General Elections, an event often called “the dance of democracy”, mostly by headline writers who just want to go home.
This dance was once a graceful kathak recital, but in 2014, it’s halfway between a twerk and that finger-raised head-bob that south Bombay children do at Swedish House Mafia shows.
When I dance I look like a man drowning in an imaginary swimming pool, and so I usually avoid this activity. But this year, I decided to get on the floor, no holds barred, and registered to vote.
I’ve tried to register before, for the 2009 general election, through a “voter registration drive” at my local MLA’s office. A voter registration drive is a duty performed by most MLAs or MPs to encourage grassroots democracy, mostly because they realise their existing voters are never going to vote for them again.
A voter registration drive is a duty performed by most MLAs or MPs to encourage grassroots democracy, mostly because they realise their existing voters are never going to vote for them again
On the final day of submission, I filled out my form and handed in my documents with pride. Thrilled at having done my duty, I decided to treat myself to some bhel outside the MLA’s office, which was perfectly spiced, delicious, and wrapped in someone else’s voter registration form from the previous day.
This year I decided I’d be more conscientious. This is my democratic duty, I figured. Our democracy does not ask much from its citizens; all you have to do to be a good Indian citizen is pay taxes, vote every few years, and be casually racist to anyone who is not the exact same shade of wheat as you.
And since I already do two of those things, there really is no excuse to not vote as well. My enthusiasm for democracy was further buoyed by the fact that you can now fill the form online at the Election Commission website (eci.nic.in), from the comfort of your own ennui′ home. Yes, the website looks like a 56 kbps modem and Netscape Navigator had a baby, which then pooped out a copy of Windows 3.1 , but that’s okay, because this is my duty.
The form asked for some basic details, like my name, address, district and something called Tehsil/Taluka in which I wrote, with diligence, ‘Pisces/Maanglik’.
I uploaded a photograph (apparently it has to be your own, not a GIF of Jennifer Lawrence tripping), saved the completed form, and printed a copy. No sooner had I done that, did I get an SMS from the Election Commission telling me to report to my local registration office, which was located in an area that Google Maps identified as “Daddy I’m scared, where are we daddy?”
But I found the office eventually by using an ancient Navajo tracking method that has been used for centuries to find government offices; I kept an eye out for the most prosperous looking Xerox shop in the area, and then went into the building next door. (Navigation pro-tip: the Navajo method of finding a police station in Mumbai is similar. Just replace the Xerox shop with an ATM)
At this point, I must stop writing jokes. Not because I’m running out of words but because how do you parody something that is already a parody of itself? When I got to the counter at 1:30 pm, I was told it was lunch time and I would have to return at 2:30, when the counter re-opened. When I inquired what time applications would then be accepted until, the man (with a most admirable poker face) said “3 pm”.
At 2:30 pm, I returned and found myself at the back of a line. I’m not saying the line was long, but in the time it took for my turn to arrive, I made friends with the guy in front and behind me, told them to hold my spot, went to the Aadhaar card counter on the other side of the building, got and filled a UID application form, went to the Xerox store, got fresh copies, stood in ANOTHER line for the UID card, submitted my UID form, entered all my biometric data, had a cold drink and then went back to my spot in the voter registration line.
Thankfully, the man at the counter had decided to stay at his desk past 3 o’clock, out of a sense of duty and a sense of not wanting to be murdered by the screaming Maarwadi aunty at the back end of the line.
30 minutes later, I submitted my form, had my documents vetted, and got a little receipt that says that I’m not in line to cast my little drop in the ocean of opinions that will decide our new government. And you know what? Staring at that little piece of paper, I felt good.
I can’t explain why (oxygen deprivation from being in that unventilated room too long) but I felt like finally, in a historic period for this country, in an election that will define where we go as a nation, my voice will contribute to this decision. But then again, there was a bhelwaala outside the office, so who knows?
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi