Three things struck me as I walked in; the long corridor, a brass bell hanging about 6 ft high around halfway on the left along the corridor and a stick hanging by a leather strap a 10 ft ahead of it. Of course, the zero-th thing that must have hit me was the 2 queues along the walls of the passage. But the feeling of nostalgia was invoked faster than the 'Oh-Shit' feeling incited by the queues.

Probably every average school can be characterized by the long corridor and a hanging brass bell, and perhaps occasionally by the guard's stick. This wasn't my school, but memories like slideshow flashed my mind.

As I perspired in the queue, I realized that these corridors never have any fans. As I looked towards the ceiling my eyes fell upon the ventilation of the classrooms, secured by vertical glass pieces arranged alternately. My immediate sense was of pity towards the students who study in those classes. They did not have those traditional concrete vents in elaborate traceries. My school had ones with an interlocking diamond pattern. And reason I felt pitiful towards the students was that they probably would never have a memory as vivid and fun as I have of that vent, in which each diamond opening was stuffed with a white paper airplane.

What makes it even more memorable is the three teachers (I remember only one of that trio now - my Geography teacher) standing with the "LOOK AT THAT!" faces. Well, it were my seniors who had managed the feat, and to this day, I don't know how. One may hazard a guess as to how many notebook pages might have been torn, how many folds a pair of hands might have creased and how many throws a pilot would have needed, but those details aren't fun.

These chain of memories was now interrupted by the shrill long beeps which had grown louder as I advanced to classroom 3 converted for the day as polling station 146/224. Yes, I was at the polling booth, this time for assembly elections.

Standing in the queue, I was reminded of a joke of two economists who meet in a queue for voting and confess to each other that they are both there only on the insistence of their wives. They mutual consented to keep the knowledge that the other voted a secret.

Of late, even I have similar feelings about elections, which have nothing to do with the marginal cost-marginal benefit conditioning of economists, the premise of the earlier joke (Not that I am not conditioned, my job requires me to be). My frustration has more to do with the first past the post system of elections we have in India and more generally, with the fact that how much little information a yes/no kind of instrument (the ballot) captures about real socio-economic issues which polity has to ultimately address through its governance and provide a reasonably accurate comparative evaluation of capabilities of prospective leaders/policy makers as well as of different approaches presented by them to address the identified issues. Of course, these details aren't fun. Willingly alienating one's right to govern oneself isn't either.

These frustrations (augmented by the never ending queue - a result of only 1 ballot station per booth, a result of insufficient EVMs, a result of too many candidates*) with world's largest democracy, begged me to ask myself why was I (and others) here to cast a vote and endorse the system.

I don't know if the senior class was punished for the stunt they pulled with the paper airplanes and the vent openings. Probably, they were lectured on why it was not the right thing to do. What I do know is nothing substantial happened; for anything such would have become one school gossip which would never be forgotten.

I sometimes do wonder, why nothing substantial happened? Maybe our teachers chose to consider the act of indiscipline as a one-time mischief and ignore it. Maybe they didn't want to punish the entire class for acts of a select few. Maybe even with all the power to punish, they were rendered powerless by the senior class's desire (and commitment to it) to have fun, to be just kids: each stuffed airplane a testimony to that.

Perhaps, I and others were there in the poll queue to express our desire to be free, even with a dysfunctional democracy; and, hopefully, through this expression render those powerless who have taken it for granted. Or perhaps, we were just bored, or our mothers/ wives dragged us there.

* There were 19 candidates in total, 2 of which cared to campaign in my locality, party of another 1 campaigned and rest did not care.
P.S. I voted around 1:00 pm taking the voter turnout in my constituency to near 36%.


Daffodils said... @ December 05, 2009

There is something fresh about this post. I can almost see the stuffed airplanes in the diamond shaped openings in the vent...Very well written!

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