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Opinion | A tryst with Indian democracy on vacation in hospital

An unexpected vacation in hospital can throw the hardiest into the rough and tumble of Indian elections

 (Mint file)Premium
(Mint file)

It began less than a fortnight ago, and I probably have Lord Ram to thank. But let me not jump ahead of myself. It was 10 May 2019, 23:20.34 hours. “Please have another drink," said PD (real name withheld). I graciously accepted as I poured myself another whisky. The flight back from Manila earlier that evening was a little disappointing. The demure stewardess in her indigo sarong kebaya had apologetically told me that they weren’t carrying my favourite single malt. She may have been judging me for drinking during daylight, but the trip to Manila was also long and boring. I’d been missing my daily dose of entertainment: screams on Republic TV, cynical pessimism on NDTV and the righteous cacophony of Times Now.

10 May, 23:24.18 hours. Another sip, and I began to feel the whisky in my head. Surprised that my usual Punjabi-level capacity was betraying me after just one peg, I quietly tapped open a taxi app. I can’t have people see me drunk in public. My staunch Hindu grandfather would be ashamed if he saw me like this. We Indians respect the departed unquestioningly, and it was imperative that I left the scene before my rural Bangali Vaishnavite roots were seen to have been corrupted. As I waited for the cab, I took a glance at my Twitter feed. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had forecast a resounding victory for itself against the corrupt coalition of Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). All was well.

10 May, 23:29.05 hours. As the taxi picked up speed, I was convinced there was something wrong with me. Why was my back hurting so much? My phone pinged. AG’s debate No. 1 was about to start. Today, he’d discuss a former prime minister’s alleged corruption—utter disrespect for the departed. I couldn’t bear the pain anymore. No, it wasn’t AG. I needed to get to a hospital.

The next day, it was in sunlight hours as I examined a piece of surgical tape holding down an IV tube where my watch used to be. Dr SC explained that the stones from my left kidney were now out, but I should take it easy for two weeks.

To be honest, I was a little relieved. I needed the break. I needed to catch up with my WhatsApp groups, and most importantly, Indian elections. My phone pinged. It was a message from my father. Things were not looking good in Kolkata. His driver had quit after learning how to say “justice" in Hindi, and was going to sit at home and enjoy 72,000 per year. My mother was living in mortal fear: The domestic help seemed onto something, too.

Two days later, phase 6 of the elections were in progress and my college group had gone bananas. A friend had 18 back-to-back posts on how freedom in India was at threat in the name of Ram. Another friend let out a string of expletives—at the other friend.

On TV, RS had quoted an anonymous source that the National Democratic Alliance was in big trouble in the Hindi heartland. Meanwhile, I could not wait for exit polls over the weekend.

19 May, 20:30.08 hours. My watch was back on my wrist, fully charged. It was me who was going bananas now. But that was okay, since AG, RS, NR, etc. were all going crazy with exit polls on TV, teasing audiences for television rating points by going state by state to stretch it late into the night. The information and broadcasting ministry had to do something about this, surely.

19 May, 23:30.58 hours. It was clear that the BJP was coming back to power. On my school group, a friend had gone hysterical with joy. But RA, who runs an NGO in Goa, was stunned. On my college group, the BJP-phobe wondered if the exit polls were rigged. I played along, unclear what the possible benefits of fudging these numbers could be. I couldn’t figure it out. Perhaps a drink would help: The Yamazaki 18 in my cabinet had seemed rather forlorn since I went to hospital.

22 May, 23:58.06 hours. AG had shouted so loudly about electronic voting machines (EVMs) on TV that he was surely in need of new vocal cords. Meanwhile, on her show, NR seemed to be throwing dark hints around rigged EVMs. There was a perfectly logical explanation in the news of why that’s highly unlikely, but it couldn’t be taken seriously, I was told, since the website was pro-BJP.

I forwarded AG’s EVM rant on his channel to a few friends on WhatsApp groups. We sent laugh-out-loud emoticons to each other. It was late, I needed some sleep, was feeling fine, but could maybe stay home one more day. What if I felt unwell in the afternoon? It would be results day, after all.

23 May, 16:34.02 hours. My wife left home for work with a smile after I showed her the AG EVM rant. Some friends on WhatsApp were very disappointed. The BJP had not reached 400 seats. I assured them there was still time. The BJP-phobe declared himself scared for the country, muttering about civil strife and worse. I reassured him that the counting was still going on. The Congress might still bounce back, I said, or the Prime Minister might leave everything to go meditate in a cave for life. That seemed to pacify him.

Now that it is firmly clear that the BJP is back, I thank Ram for my kidney stones. It’s been the most entertaining vacation ever. I am already feeling the lull now that the results are so loud and clear. And thank Ram, once again, the Cricket World Cup is starting soon.

Jyotirmoy Saha is founder of August Media Holdings

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Updated: 24 May 2019, 01:05 AM IST
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