After walking through stretches of empty, hostile terrain, travelling down seven floors in a lift and avoiding Maoist-looking neighbours, I got into my car for a drive to the polling station. It was four minutes away.
One big incentive for voting on Wednesday was that it was a wonderful Delhi winter morning perfect for a ‘picnic in the park’, a ‘paratha in the polls’ or any variation thereof. Also, the phrase ‘three-way’ to describe the Congress-BJP-Aam Aadmi contest had somehow excited me in a way that ‘anti-incumbent’ and ‘challenger’ hadn’t in the past. So there I was, uncharacteristically chirpy at 9 o’clock in front of the ASN Day Boarding School in Mayur Vihar, east Delhi. Except after a few minutes and an enquiry, I realised I was in the wrong ASN School. A nice, short poll officer gave me directions to ‘my’ ASN School. It was three minutes from my house.
This kind of confusion wouldn’t have happened if I was a voter in a remote area in Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, or in a Maoist-wracked village in Chhattisgarh, or anywhere in Mizoram. There would have been just one polling booth available for miles on end and little chance of any confusion. Here in Mayur Vihar, apart from the ‘wrong’ ASN School, there were at least three other polling venues I passed as I drove my car within a one-kilometre radius, careful not to mow anyone down on election day.
I finally made it — a gruelling two minutes later — to the right place. The sign at the entrance announced ‘ASN International School’, not ‘ASN Day Boarding School’ as my voter’s slip had stated. But these things happen. My fellow voters here all seemed like parents on a parent-teacher day but with all the children missing. This absence of children is a very comforting aspect of election day.
And yet, as I walked into my designated Booth No. 174 room, signs of children were everywhere. I was dying to correct the ‘Lets Count’ and ‘Lets Read’ cut-outs on the softboard, only to realise that none of the three parties mentioned anything about putting apostrophes back where they belong in their pre-poll manifestos. It was a classroom with seven polling officials sitting as if after decades of flunking exams, they were confident this time of leaving school. After the usual procedure of showing my slip and my passport — sorry, I lost my voter ID card after the 2003 polls — with my finger inked, I went into the corner where a folded cardboard burqaed me off from the world as I punched my choice into the synthesiser-looking EVM.
The climax of the day was yet to come. It was the moment I had been waiting for, for five years. Parking my car in front of the Aggarwal Sweets outlet one minute away from my polling booth, I ordered hot kachauri-sabzi for `24. Chomping my steaming breakfast as I stood, listening in on two elderly gentlemen having kulcha-chana and discussing how the sitting MLA has managed to get himself another Subway franchise in Ghaziabad (“The first one was at Shipra Mall. This one’s near Orange County at Aditya Mall.”), I quietly congratulated myself for treating what the Uncle-jis and Auntie-jis on TV and in newspapers insist to be a grand exercise of democratic duty as a well-utilised glorious Wednesday winter morning that had demanded some old-style neighbourhood fun.