In spite of being a little over thirty Kumud and I have never actually voted in a general election. We've never lived in India at the time of a general election or even cast our vote via postal ballot. It's a cruel irony, not having been able to vote, given how politically engaged and aware we both are, albeit with structurally divergent views (I usually support the right candidate and party, she the wrong one).
We decide to get ourselves registered as voters, on the last day possible, the 9th of March, on which the Election Commission of India had organized a nation wide registration of voters.
Finding where this registration was taking place poses challenge. Tarini and I go to the registered office of the Election Commission next to the Asiatic Society.
It's a Sunday and the place is deserted. The guard tells us to go up to the third floor to find out where the registration might be taking place. We walk up three flights of dilapidated wooden stairs and find padlocked offices with wooden doors. A smell of stale urine wafts towards us, a construction worker shuffles past. We see a sign proclaiming this to be the second floor and so walk up a fourth flight of stairs to the third floor and finally find a sign announcing the existence of the Election Branch.
The staff instruct us to go to "Elphinshtun Technical Kaalej" near St. Xavier's College and so we walk down the four flights of stairs again.
As we leave the Magistrate's Office a family of three is asking the guard for instructions to the Electoral Office. The guard turns to us with a hopeful look, hoping that we have found the place. We share our information and the father of the family opens his mouth to thank us. He's wearing a red striped polo shirt and his teeth are broken and stained from a lifetime of eating supari (beatle nut). As Tarini and I drive off we see the family, father, mother and daughter, get into a taxi.
After lunch Kumud and I decide to get into the car to try and find the 'Elphinshtun Technical Kaalej'. As we pull up alongside St. Xavier's college I spot a man in a red polo shirt getting into a taxi, holding a wad of papers in one hand. "I know that man!" I exclaim to Kumud, "Tarini and I saw him and his family outside the Magistrate's Building, he probably knows where the registration office is!"
Just as we park the car ahead of a bus stop a taxi pulls up alongside and the man with the red polo shirt and supari stained teeth leans out and shouts "it's behind, there, behind the shtircush".
"The what" I ask? Circus?"
"Shtircush, shtircush!" the man says excitedly.
"Staircase", Kumud mutters quietly.
"Oh, ok" I say, but the man and his wife and his daughter in the black and yellow taxi have already pulled away.
"You didn't want to exchange cards?", Kumud asks drily.
As we walk up the stairs we enter a huge hall that has been lit up by four floodlights in four corners of the hall. The hall has a high wooden ceiling and must have been beautiful when well maintained. A plaque says that it was inaugurated in 1879 in honor of David Sassoon, one of Bombay's wealthiest benefactors, a Sephardic Jew who came to Bombay from Baghdad and who thrived on the opium trade with China under the British. Kumud proclaims it to be a 'Cambridge - worthy' hall, "if maintained".
A man and woman are seated behind a desk with an upside down "help desk" sign stapled to their table. "No no no", they say when we try and ask them something, "we are not a help desk. Perhaps we should switch to the other side of the table" they say to each other, and get up.
We see piles of registers on tables with numbers from 1 - 60, 61 - 120, etc. and when we leaf through them we see thousands of pictures, presumably of people who have successfully registered for the electoral rolls.
A man guards a huge tin box that contains thousands of laminated cards, voter id cards. People yell names at him and then his hand dives pelican - like into the tin box to fish out cards containing a range of names within of which the yelled out name would fall. He does this with unerring accuracy, again and again.
Finally we are told to fill in a Form 6 in order to get ourselves registered and after filling it in join the queue to submit it. Getting a form in an Indian Government Office goes something along the following lines.
"Ek phaaram seeks dena!!"
"Phaaram seeks?? Yeh?"
"Haan haan, voh!!
Then the form issuing Government servant fishes out a Form Six, looks at it one last time as if he personally gave birth to it, and then grudgingly hands it over. The recipient then takes the form and just stares at it, for minutes, not able to comprehend that he actually holds the "phaaram".
After we submit our forms we stumble out, back on the staircase, drunk with the knowledge that each of us may independently alter the history of this country.
"Well", Kumud says, "even if we're not ready for this election we will be for the next".
All we'll need by then will be a Form Eight, for a change of address.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.