Friday, November 28, 2014

'Freelance' Election duty.

Election day it was. We had a day off at our school, it was the only perk of the day for us the electorally insignificant kids. Democracy was an unheard word back then and election was nothing more than a holiday to us. It wasn't our first election though, we have been audience to the theatrics of a election day in our constituency, before, We knew what to expect on the day. We the smart kids were prepared to not let a day off go waste, we had to plan in advance. The itinerary had to be chalked out and discussed. On the evening before the election day we called a team meeting of our cricket team. We discussed each and every detail for our game of cricket the next day. We had to plan when to leave our homes for the ground, who will bring with them which kit. We knew from our previous experience that the election day chaos will subside around 4 o'clock in the evening. It was decided that at the same time we shall reach the ground for our game. It was summer season, it would not have been too late to start a game at 4 o'clock. Mobile phones hadn't made inroads even in our imagination back then, a meticulous planning and team meeting was very essential for our game. The meeting went well, every crucial details were discussed, how to convince our parents to let us go out, What time should we leave our homes? Where to gather? Who will bring the bats, wickets and the ball. Parents saying no was a possibility and a big concern. This required a mitigation plan and convincing excuses. Which pitch we would be playing, How many overs games? We finalized each and every detail to avoid any loss of time in the ground.

It was the election morning, one can sense the excitement from early morning long queue outside the polling booths. The usual script of the day was being performed, first two hours of voting was peaceful. Election enthusiasts voted early and brandished their ink finger. Proudly they were vocalizing their ideological supremacy. The queue was moving at snail's pace. Slow election wasn't a good sign for us the kids, a slow voting could spell doom for our plans. Something had to happen. This wasn't as per our plan.

"Boom! Boom!". Loud sounds were heard. I was happy, smiling and was now assured things will go as per our plan. It was the first sound of crude bombs for the day, We knew the preparation by all parties had been very meticulous and crude bombs was a integral part to announce the beginning of booth capturing. Sound of the bombs were discrete but regularl, the parties had taken matter into their hands. Soon the voters and the queue will disappear, only the party pooling agents will occupy booths. The voting will now end in a flash unless a fierce fight broke up. It happened as it was supposed to be. The cadres occupied the booths and the voter list, ballet papers were stamped with party symbol at fanatic speed. The poor polling officer looked away and surrender to the cadres at absence of state. State was cadre and cadre was state.

As it happened, by 3:30 P.M the booths looked empty and desolate. I could see we can go ahead to the ground, there won't be any skirmishes on the street. But it wasn't the age of cheap phone calls,We had to wait and stuck with our plans. We gathered at our pre-planned location with our minimum cricketing paraphernalia. We looked at each other to be sure all of us had joined in. Few were missing, but it was Ok. They might have had bad time convince their parents. Among the missing lads there was one boy called Sanjay, He was elder to us and worked in a jute mill to support his family. But he was integral part of our team. he was the one  whose macho attitude would help us manage a pitch in the congested ground, where at any given point 15-20 teams would play games.

We waited for a him, but not being able to sight him, we started our walk to the ground. We started our game and was in early stage of the overs. We saw Sanjay walk in with his usual bravado, collar erect, well oiled hair and with a huge smile. His white long teeth was a distinct feature on his otherwise dark skin, and he never missed an opportunity to flash them. He came and stood at the pitch. All the teammates came running at him and circled him. After the sudden sprint we were short of breath but he was smiling and chuckling. We sensed something was different with him today. We haven't seen him that happy earlier, never before.

'What happened? Why are you late at the ground? Why are so happy?' , All of us bombarded him with questions. He raised his hands and asked all of us to slow down. But he was being mischievous in his demeanour, he was holding back his answers and was laughing out loud. This was making all of us restless, we started pulling him around joyfully and kept on insisting till he gave up. He agreed to tell us the entire story.

He slip his hands in his pockets and took out ten hundred rupees notes. He waved the notes in the air, our eyes were gazed at the fluttering notes. Thousand rupee was lot of money in those days and that too in Sanjay's hand. It was surprising and and made all of us happily suspicious, knowing that Sanjay only earned Rs 1500/- per month. It was impossible that he would be having thousand rupee in his pocket at the end of the month. Our curiosity knew no bound now, we all were jumping in joy and pleaded him to tell how he has got that much of money. 'Have you conned someone', joy fully we inquired. 'With a loud laugh, 'No', he said. ' All right, I will tell you how I made the money'.

He started narrating the events that transpired into money.

"Last evening when we finished our meeting all of us left for our homes, I bumped into my friend while returning home. He was in rush to reach somewhere and seeing me he stopped. I asked him where was he heading for? Without replying , he asked me to accompany him. I too didn't asked him any question and went along. He went to a corner of a deserted place and there was many young boys listening to the local strongman with rapt attention. I too stood there, listening. The strongman was recruiting volunteer of the election day. He wanted to have more people who can help him on election day for a exchange of Rs500/-. Five hundred rupees for just one day of work, this was too lucrative a proposition to let go. I said 'Yes', without asking what I was supposed to do. All of us who said yes were handed a packet, very well packed and asked to be very careful with it. It was quite heavy, I could sense it has 5 cylindrical shaped tin boxes, like the 'Paan prag' tin. I sensed what it could be. I was little nervous now. But I choosed to remain silent and listen to what were the instructions.
The strongman continued, 'He commanded'. 'All of you have to use each one of the tins as in when required. You shall make sure, if the opposition comes near our booths, you guys should make best use of the packet. I want all of it to be used to teach opposition a lesson.' He shouted with authority. We all nodded in affirmation. It was now clear to me, I was one of the recruit to hurl crude bombs for the election victory. This was a part time freelance job, I had never imagined I would be doing. Damn be it, but I have Rs 500/- to make in a day."

All the kids were in muted state listening to what Sanjay had described. We were nervous too, to have an attitude of a macho man is one thing but to hurl a bomb is scary. Even a well known friend can be scary. One of the kids managed some courage and asked Sanjay, 'Where did you hurl the bombs.'
Sanjay laughed with devilish laugh. He shrug his hands in the air and rejected the question. He chuckled and said, 'I didn't use any of it. Do you really think I can do it.'

'What? you haven't used any of it. What happened to the packet then? what you did the entire day with the packet?' I asked.

'I slept entire day.' He replied with a smile.

'Don't joke', Another kids reprimanded him.

'I am serious.' He replied.

What did you did with the packet?' Asked another kid.

" I sold it to the opposition party strongman for another Rs500/- and made a thousand rupee for the day just by sleeping.' The entire group broke into a frenzy of laughter.

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