Saturday, April 25, 2009

Shake, rattle enroll

Recently I’ve been very busy being all pompous and self-righteous about voter responsibility, even going as far as to actually register to vote. My parting shot in last week’s column was that if nobody showed up to officially verify my identity and address within two weeks, as they’re meant to do in order for me to take my rightful place on the electoral roll, I was going to raise hell.

Well, the fortnight expired this week without anyone showing up to shower hosannas on my invaluable citizenship. So, in a rare example of follow-through that also ends a long-standing perfect record of sticking to empty threats, I made my way back to the local Electoral Registration Office to find the person responsible and make them very, very sorry.

They’re only open for public dealings for the two hours before lunch, so I set off at 11am just as the April sun turned the knob to ‘Bake’. I wasn’t conscious, at the time, of a reason for deciding to go on foot, but in hindsight it must have been in order to season my irritation with discomfort and cook it up into a fearsome soufflĂ© of indignation.

Every step along the way from my house to the ERO—Google Maps claims that the distance is less than two kilometres, but I’d estimate about ten—put me into a sweatier, fouler temper. How dare they not fulfil their obligation to me as a citizen? Did they think they could get away with ignoring me? If they thought that just because I’m me, I wouldn’t bother to stand up and demand to be counted, they had another think coming, even though it was a fair guess. I wasn’t going to allow their sloppiness to rob me of my fundamental rights, I was going to hunt down the lazy sods and shame them into doing the right thing, namely commit seppuku all over their incomplete, inconsistent electoral rolls.

I arrived to find the place locked and deserted, and a few men sitting around a table in an insultingly mellow mood. I launched into them with both guns blazing.

Why had nobody come to verify me??!

Everyone’s very busy with the election now, they said. They’ll only come after June.

Excuse me? I sputtered. The elections are now, I have to vote on May 7!

Sorry madam, that’s not possible. They shook their heads and yawned.

I began to babble with rage. I registered two weeks ago, and you’re supposed to verify me within two weeks and you haven’t verified me and…

When did you register, did you say?

Two weeks ago!! I yowled.

Oh, that’s why. Those registrations won’t be processed until after the elections, they said soothingly. You can vote in the next election; the last date to register for this one was March 18.

[Very low voice] Oh. Er.

And thus were the tables devastatingly turned. One moment there I was, red-faced and open-mouthed with righteous fury, and the next there I was, red-faced and open-mouthed with horror and embarrassment. I’d found the jerk responsible for sabotaging my vote, and that jerk was me. How stupid did I feel for having omitted to check on this all-important fact? I begged the earth to open up and swallow me but it just kept turning and smirking, so there was nothing for it but to mutter a thanks, turn around and hobble home on the stumps of my melting legs, trying to remember where I keep my ritual disembowelment knife.

India will have to get through this general election without me. But watch out, 2014. As Schwarzenegger said, I’ll be beck.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Franchise opportunity

I’ve never voted. At first it was because I couldn’t understand who was who and what they planned to do when they came to power. More recently it’s been because I can’t keep up with who’s with whom and what they plan to do when they come to power, and who they’ll be with after they come to power, and what that will compel them to do. Political expedience far outweighs both manifesto and track record these days, and therefore as far as the voter is concerned, all bets are off.

But there’s no getting around the fact that the workings of democracy are divided between the voter and the voted for. At least half the responsibility is the citizen’s—not only to elect his or her representatives, but also to hold them to account by demanding the rights that the government is mandated to safeguard, and demanding that Parliamentarians debate and implement policy. In other words, voting is the equivalent of pushing the schoolyard bully back. It entitles you to make a song and dance when the political class fails you.

It may well be true that the choice before voters is between six of one and half a dozen of the other, the unifying factor being that political parties spend the vast majority of their time trying to get into power and then trying to stay there, in order to make vast amounts of money. However, in the tiny sliver of time left over from that, they do have to accomplish a few things. So I finally decided to hold up my end of the democratic bargain, even though I belong to that demographic in which politicians are least interested because it’s too small and too demanding a vote bank.

So I registered to vote. First, thanks to a television ad blitz that has been running for at least three hundred years and has therefore penetrated my anti-ad mental shield, I logged onto It’s an excellent website and gave me all sorts of help, like telling me my Assembly Constituency number and my Parliamentary Constituency number, and the name and address and telephone number of my Block Level Officer. It even included driving directions (both written as well as marked on a map) from my house to my nearest electoral registration office. I electronically filled up Form 6, to submit to the ERO along with proof of where I live and my date of birth.

When I pressed ‘generate form’, however, it said something like, ‘this username is already taken, too bad so sad, and we’re not giving you any of our telephone numbers to clarify how and why this is so, so sucks to you, go to the ERO and get your own damn form.’

Fair enough. I went to the ERO at 1.15pm, though, which they gleefully informed me was fifteen minutes too late. They work from 10am to 6pm, they said, but deal with the public between 11am and 1pm, presumably because our low population numbers don’t warrant any extended public dealings times, especially during election season. Nevertheless, I planted myself politely in front of the grilled, glassed cage that passes for a counter and after they were done licking their fingers from lunch, while smoking a post-prandial bidi, they generously accepted my application and told me that an officer would swing by to make sure I was legit.

Since then I have been stationed by the front door, waiting for that officer to come by and verify that I live where I say I do. So far, no good. They’re supposed to send someone around within two weeks, so they have until Tuesday. It’ll be interesting to see whether I have to start making a song and dance already.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Goodbye, crool world

Poor Yavuz Berke, now Adam Leon. He’s that 31-year-old Turkish-origin Canadian student pilot who wanted to end his life but couldn’t summon the courage to do it himself. Deciding to outsource the job, he stole a plane from his flight school a few days ago and flew into American airspace without authorisation, figuring that he’d be put out of his misery by their jumpy, post-9/11 air force.

He spent hours overflying several US states, desperate to be shot up. Imagine his sense of betrayal when, instead of blowing him out of the sky, the F-16 fighter jets followed him around and tried to talk to him, just like everyone else! Finally out of fuel, but self-preservation maddeningly intact, the unhappy fellow landed carefully on a highway, walked to a grocery store and sipped a cold drink while waiting for the police, which, when it arrived, was no doubt perversely understanding.

Seriously, what does a bloke have to do to check out these days? Suicidal depression is an unbearably painful state to live in. Yet choosing death, let alone by one’s own hand, takes more courage than most people have. I know I want to kill myself about twice a day but, on account of spinelessness, get only as far as a bit of black humour (it’s the really unfunny things you’d better be able to laugh at). This is either lucky or unfortunate, depending on how you feel about the sanctity of life.

I’m relieved that Leon survived to see his psychiatrist another day, but I retain a sneaking sympathy for people in the double hell of an unbearable life and an impossible death, who want to die but can’t bring themselves to actually stick in the knife/jump off the cliff/swallow the poison/pull the trigger. Their only option seems to be to try to put themselves in harm’s way and let things take their course; and clearly, the US Air Force is unreliable.

What else could you do? The classic Hollywood solution is to hire a hit man to kill you at some undisclosed time and place. This being Hollywood, you’d meanwhile fall passionately in love and spend the rest of your time on the run trying to contact the assassin and cancel the order, until you discover that your new love is the assassin’s ex, so he or she is going to kill you anyway. Melodramatic, but that’s Hollywood.

If you’re female and tired of life, you could head over to the Swat Valley and engage strange men in conversation, maybe show a bit of leg. This option might also be available in Kashmir before long, given recent reports of Taliban infiltration across the Pakistan border. The downside is that they may not kill you completely dead. But then again they might.

You could invite a few hard-up pensioners over one evening, lay on a terrific spread, talk about your flat screen television and resort holiday, and mention that you worked on Wall Street and will never have to work again because of the enormous bonus they just gave you before letting you go for gambling away everyone’s pension funds. This death may actually be more painful than anything available in Swat, but is guaranteed.

If you really are fabulously rich, you have only to exploit, insult and otherwise alienate your spouse and/or children, then just sit back and let nature take its course.

Yeah, all right, Thanatos is a tough nut to crack. But if you’re really determined, just spend the day driving around Delhi. That’s so effective that it works even for people who have no desire to die.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

With a little help

One of the many effective ways to fall into the generation gap and break my ankle is to mention to my mother that I’m going to hang with friends. It makes her turn all gimlet-eyed and say things like, ‘Again?’ or ‘You people have a lot of time on your hands’ or, frequently, ‘But what do you talk about?’. What she means, according to the large freezing speech bubble that helpfully erupts from her scalp at these times, is: ‘The offspring I fully intended to have would have been busy raising their own children, or holding down a real job, or reading to the blind.’ (And also, ‘Are you going dressed like that?’—that one is permanently installed over her head.)

My parents got married shortly after they learned to tie their shoelaces, so while they love their friends dearly, their primary idea of a support system is family, both nuclear and extended. Friends are people whom my mother visits once in a while for dinner parties, which are carefully planned at least a few days in advance and for which she dresses very nicely, in saris and jewellery. Everyone chats a lot and has fun but, except in rare cases, there’s a slight formality to the relationship.

On my side of the generation gap, friends are the people you relax with. I’m not talking about the dozens of people on Facebook with whom one has never exchanged, and will never exchange a word. I’m talking about people in the real world with whom I have dinner on the spur of the moment, decide to go out or stay in or both, come however we’re dressed, crash at each other’s houses for the night—sometimes in the same bed, chaste as puppies—stay up as long as we want to, and see each other eighteen times a week or once every two months as the case may be, without worrying about whether it’s too much or too little.

My mother can’t understand how we can talk to each other the way we do, swearing like sailors and discussing things she would consider too intimate for anyone but a spouse. (This is of course a matter of temperament; many people in my generation remain fairly guarded even with their closest friends.) She thinks we must surely run out of things to say. In fact she makes spending time with people sound so difficult that I decided to google ‘how to have a conversation’. It turns out that people need more basic help with this than you’d think. Here’s a distillation of the things I learned.

Decide that life is interesting. It’s the only way you’ll want to talk to anyone.

Listen to the other person. By letting them talk about themselves the whole time, you can fool them into thinking you’re one of those rare people who don’t talk about themselves the whole time.

Compliment people, it’s an ice-breaker (but you aren’t supposed to say ‘You have nice boobs’ even if you mean it).

Ask them questions, but space them out so you that don’t sound as if you’re interrogating them.

Forget yourself—if you’re busy worrying about how you look and sound, you won’t listen. But make sure you smile, nod and say ‘I see’ periodically to let the other person know you haven’t fallen asleep.

And finally, some practical tips verbatim from a website called ‘Instructibles’: “Start by saying ‘Hey’ or a similar greeting… If your conversation ends because both of you had said what you could, tell a joke! ‘I wish my grass was Emo, so it would cut itself’. You can use this one, or get another one from the web.”

Good luck!