Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Elections-P's Dilemna

It was time for the  elections. Lofty ideals were rediscovered and manifestos dusted off and given a contemporary appeal. The candidates realized that they could not give away the moon. So they promised TV Sets, pilgrimages to places of one’s choice, mobile phones to young people, and the like. Candidates with more constrained resources offered liberal supplies of the locally made fermented stuff. One person talked about garbage management and public transport. Everybody laughed at him and no one attended his meetings. He quit the race.

I commented to my wife that, except for the one who dropped out, the candidates were being quite practical with their promises.

“Who wants a TV or a mobile phone?” she sniffed, “I prefer the pilgrimage”.

I am not a great one for pilgrimages but, I thought, what if this chap wins?  A few days by myself with the wife away is not such a bad idea, after all. Thus, the engineer’s head overruled the heart of a loving husband. I decided to vote for my wife’s candidate.

There were issues in plenty and breathtakingly global in scope. So it came about that my maid worried about the melting Antarctic ice. “But it will mean more water for us, no?” she asked hopefully. The wife took the easy route- she told the maid to speak to me about it. My candidate, P, promised a world class sports complex. I was impressed although I knew I could not afford the tickets to get inside.

Silly, old fashioned me, fretting about potholed roads, unlit streets and uncleared garbage. I must to accept that the world has moved on. After all, this is a land of seven hundred million mobile phone users.

P’s benevolent pictures smiled down us from his campaign posters. We were urged to remember his deeds. How could we forget? He got us an additional water line in the middle of summer and helped the paanwala set up shop on the footpath. My grocer was grateful to P for being able to extend his shop to the pavement. In fact, there was hardly anyone who was not affected by P’s munificence.

And thus we cantered towards voting day.

As the big day neared, I set out on an evening walk to compensate for several consecutive mornings of lethargy and late rising. It was cool and I made brisk progress as I dodged assassination attempts by the scores of vehicles that used my road. I saw P walking in my direction. I was surprised to see him alone at this time. P believed in two kilometer visibility in the densest fog. On a normal day he would be walking with a half dozen people and chat up the dozens he would come across.

Apparently, it was not a normal day.

As P came closer, I noticed that he looked worried and distracted.
“Hello”, I greeted him. I was game for some small talk and local gossip.
P looked at me sadly and with a touch of bitterness said, “Your foreigner friend has brought me lot of trouble”.

That was not possible. J’s meeting with P had lasted about five minutes. I said as much.

“Do you want to know?” he warmed up, “My family wants a toilet in my home”.

“Ahhh…” was all I could say.

“The people, too. They are saying that they have waited for too long”
“That should not be too difficult once you are elected”
“After all that I have done for them...” P was at the point of tears, “They just don’t seem to understand”

I decided that it was best not to say anything.

“There was no problem all these years; and now, this”
I nodded my head in sympathy. P’s beneficiaries lived on public land, got free electricity and water. They should not have anything to complain about.

“They have a lot to be grateful about”, I said to P.
“They are laughing at me now,” P’s voice was almost a wail, “They want a promise from me that if I get elected, I will....get one built”. He almost choked on the last few words.

 I excused myself and walked on.

Election Day came and went. Those who took their civic responsibilities or their candidates seriously lined up at the polling booths to vote. The uncaring ones left town.

We had nothing to do till counting day. So we analyzed in detail the winning prospects of every candidate and consequences of his victory. Overnight we had all become experts.

It was counting day at least. P was noticeably nervous. The possibility that some of his faithful could have voted against him had made him even more jittery. To make matters even more difficult, his family threatened to revolt if they had to “go to the backside” after the elections.

As the counting progressed, it became clear that it was going to be a very close contest. P could not sit still any longer. He began pacing outside the counting hall. His faithful scurried behind, trying to calm him.

P clutched his stomach. The tension was getting to him. He looked around in desperation. The only place he could go to was the inside the building and he was not allowed to enter even on “urgent compassionate grounds”.

When he could not bear it any longer, he ran around the corner crying, “I promise, let me go please, I promise”

How do the Americans say it? You can run, but you can't hide, baby.

No comments: