Friday, 17 May 2013

Elections and other monstruosité

I wake up on the morning of the 11th of May. Yes, morning. That's a statement in itself. I feel the excitement pangs that i have come to associate with Eid and exams, over the years. But, no; today is neither. It's Election Day! The day has come and passed four times in my life without me even noticing. And like every other event in the universe, it's important to me now because I'm involved. Not competing or anything, just voting. Like every other citizen, i was under the impression that i can contribute in the making of a new government. I could not have been sillier. Or dumber. Or more wrong. (I wish wronger were a word, my sentence would have sounded so much more impactful.)

I set out at 11 dot. That's the soonest I could, considering I had convinced my 80-year-old grandmother to vote for my man, Imran, and you can cook paaye faster than she dresses. Anyway, heading out, I triumphantly texted people telling them I was gonna go vote (ink on my thumb, ya'll). A short, very bumpy, back-breaking ride later, we're at The Polling Station. Queues of old people, young people, women, girls. I was actually impressed. Until the police constable at the gate told us: "Gaarri aagay lo! Yahan park karna mana hai!" Even AFTER we explained to him we had a senior citizen with us who couldn't walk on uneven surfaces. I was even more upset when I was told, by a different but equally inapt looking constable, that the polling hadn't started yet because 'samaan nahi aaya.' I really can't believe I had thought it would be a cool, systematic process. For once I had been optimistic of the sense of duty of our officers. Were they not supposed to be here three hours ago? Whatever. Climbing back in, i went back to the house, all gloomy. Daddy said we could go back again in a few hours, the polling had to start sooner or later.

One sad hour later, bhai log ring my doorbell and say the voters in the house can carpool with them to the station. No thank you, we aren't voting for you anyway. I didn't say that out loud. Anyway, guess what! It meant the polling had started! A repeat performance of getting in the car and bumpy back-breaking ride took us to the polling station where the queue had lengthened dramatically. Anyway, taking one for the country, citizens, I joined it. Holding my nani's arm, not even inside the gate yet. Waited and waited. I was trying really hard not to ask women who they were voting for. I swear, I tried. Then it burst out of me: 'Kisko vote dengi?"
"Pata nai"
"Kia matlab? Aap line mein hain. Kese nai pata?"
I think she lost her cool with me then because she made a horrible face and turned away. I was offended, but not as much as to not try again. By now, everyone around including the Rangers and the Police had noticed my nani. We were shepherded to the front of the line and inside the polling station where there are even longer queues. I sit my nani down on a nearby chair and join in. Again, I try not to ask but I just lack the capability to keep it in.
"Kisko vote dengi?"
"Patang ko"
The discussion should have ended there but keen and insistent that i am, i ploughed on:
"Dekheyn Imran Khan ko vote deyn! Wo Naya Pakistan banayega"
She smiled and shook her head. I swear, I have never felt more desperate a need to slap someone hard. It took every ounce of self-control I had to smile back, however condescendingly. Back there, a Ranger had spotted my nani and her cane (that she threatened to hit everyone and anyone with). Once again we were pushed and encouraged to go ahead to the front of the line. I was beginning to think it was a great idea to convince nani to come. I was quite enjoying the preferential treatment.

At the front of the line, it was pandemonium. A woman scratching names off a list, screaming to see identity cards and receipts. Women pushing and pulling each other to be at the front. Anyway, we got our names checked in the book. At one point the woman matching faces to lists and names insisted on re-christening me Saleema Tufail. Only my persistent refusal led her to search for an alternative.

After mucho hard work, pulling pushing through and screaming for space, we (my nani and I) were in the polling room for women. Once again, i regretfully admit that i thought it would be systematic and proper. I was wrong. If outside was panic, inside was Sparta. A woman was missing from her post, the illiterate clerk who had been given the job of inking thumbs was tearing ballot papers and stamping them for the voters. And the women of NA-253... Taubah. They were crazy. Crazy and selfish. Each wanted to get done before everyone else. Anyway, I got my nani her two ballot papers and got mine. The curtained area where citizens are supposed to stamp their votes in privacy was not vacant. Mildly, I wondered why. My question was soon answered when a fully make-up'd woman walked out and cast, not one not two, but SEVEN ballot papers in one ballot box alone. In my head, i got a vague replay of the polling officer tearing off the papers and handing it over to The Woman herself saying: 'Patang pe lagana' I hadn't even realized what she was doing! The hell? I had always heard of bad stuff happening but it never happened to me. Had I just witnessed blatant rigging?

I had to say something. I looked around with half-a-finger raised to accuse the criminal herself in a 'IT WAS YOU' kinda way. But nothing doing; she had run away as soon as she had done her job. I pointed at the only polling officer in the room and said: "Kia horaha hai yahan per? Rigging kar rae hain aap log?!" My voice getting louder with each syllable. I had briefly wondered before if I was wrong, but her reaction told me everything. She looked wild-eyed and said: "Kisnay dekha? Aap ne dekha? Aap ne dekha? Kisi ne nai dekha." And to my surprise, the voice that came from behind me saying: "Main ne dekha!" was my nani's. You have to give it to her. The woman at the counter totally flipped out telling us to get out. I gave her the coldest, most disgusted look i could muster and said: "I'm here to vote, I'm not going"

I helped my nani fold her ballot paper and folded mine, cast our votes and walked out. As I am a nag and a persistent insistent human being, I did not give up. I walked over to the horse-faced makrooh shakal wali woman who was claiming to be the ECP official. Clearly, she was lying. She tried very hard to twist my words around and make it sound like i'm making a fuss. All became clear when I saw make-up face sitting right beside her. UGH.

I went to the Rangers and the Police officers in turn, pleading my case. The latter even offered me a glass of Coke saying 'Madam, thandi ho jayen.' I threatened them all with reminders of death and Judgement Day. They did nothing. A senior officer gave me his phone number telling me to call in case of a problem. DUDE, I HAVE A PROBLEM NOW. Sigh, all hope was lost on my part. I hear they later sealed polling in that station, but back then I was so dejected that I even forgot to buy a celebratory Coke in honour of me voting for the first time.

Point is, it wasn't a good experience, but an experience. It taught me to stand up for my rights. It taught me that there are all kinds of people in the world. Most of all, it taught me that i should carry a camera with me everywhere I go in case I have to make emergency videos of political parties rigging their way to the National Assembly. Bleh. -_-