It was an eventful day. It was an election day. Not something too extraordinary. No Congress, BJP or (the more probable one) Communist flags flying anywhere. It was the Student Council election in NIT Calicut. There were two parties, and too much slander flying all over the place. And as is usual with me, I dragged myself out of the bed, and plodded towards the voting booth to exercise my right (meh!) in the great national institute. I selected candidates randomly (as usual again) and clicked on “Vote”. As the words “Your vote has been registered” appeared on the screen in front of me, the die had been cast for the coming weeks.
Voting results were declared and I was told that one of the parties was not happy due to loss of some key posts. Not that it matters to me. But it did matter to the bigwigs in that party and they pinned the blame on 2nd and 3rd year mallus (to the uninitiated, mallus = malayalis). Hence we got to see lot of threatening, pushing and shoving going on in front of the MC (Mini Canteen). It was fun to see this huge knot of people randomly swearing and pushing anything around them. It was fun till I was told that the MC will be closed following the disturbances. Seriously, of all the places they had to slug it out, they had to do it right in front of the MC. For a mess-out like me, MC is the life line. Without food (and no valid source of income) I pretty much join the 30% strong Indian population below the poverty line.
Incidents and rumours fly around for days, and more people shove it out in front of the MC. MC gets closed. And I get stranded. I borrowed and ate some Maggie (courtesy Neeraj Salpekar) and ended up in bed for three days with food poisoning. Three days!
While I am shuttling between my room and the toilet, people were sitting in darkened rooms plotting revenge and conspiring against all those who had wronged them. So as ignoramuses like me go about chaffing against assignments and lab works, the battle leaves the streets and reaches hostel rooms.
One day in a Thursday morning, as I am going towards my class, I noticed a lot of students on the street discussing something in hushed voices. When I asked I was told that some guy had been beaten up by some other guys, whose friends were beaten up by the first guys. Whatever it was, I go to attend my classes which usually start at 8 am and go on till 6 pm. But when I did return home from the lectures, I saw the weirdest sight that I had ever seen.
The streets were lined with Mallus running away carrying whatever they could carry. Trolley bags, suitcases, bags ….. the road was overflowing with them and their sense of urgency. To say the truth, it reminded me of the great Exodus by the Hebrew people as told in the Old Testament. My roommates, all of whom are mallus, were busy packing up as quickly as they could. “dude, you better start packing up with us and come to Cochin.” said Stein. “Why?” I asked,” today is Thursday, why is everyone going away? what about Friday’s class?” “Forget about the class,” Stein replied,” don’t you know, there’s going to be this big fighting tonight and it won’t happen outside. So better get your hands on some clothes and come with me and Jakes to Cochin.”
Predictably I refuse. First of all I didn’t believe that there actually was going to be a fight and second thing was that I did not want to pass an opportunity of being able to stay alone in the room through a weekend.
All the mallus had left by 6 pm and it was then that you could pretty much taste the tension in the air. People locked themselves up in their rooms, and only spoke in a hushed voice. The whole place was quiet, like the quiet before a storm. And at about 7 pm we received a notice from the director of our institute telling us that the college will be closed indefinitely and that all the boys in 2nd,3rd and 4th year hostels have to vacate their rooms before 10 pm.
My watch told me that we had 3 hours to get myself out of here. But where the hell will I go? You can’t just tell us that “you have to leave in 3 hours, college will be closed indefinitely, you have no ticket, very less money, but we don’t care” but they did.
I did not have enough money to go to Mumbai, but I did have barely enough to get myself to Bangalore, where my dad was present on an official tour. After intense searching around, I found Shubhangam, Angshuman and Alok. I tagged along with their group, and after some pitched battle for pizza slices, bouncing around in the sleeper seat of a bus for six hours, carrying three 2 litre water bottles for hours, we at last made it to Bangalore. The rest of the group made it to the airport while I rendezvoused with my dad.
After that it was a cake walk back to Mumbai. But surely, if anyone would have told me on Thursday afternoon that on Friday night I will be hammering away at my laptop in my home I would have called him mad. But this world is predictable in a way that it is unpredictable. When you are cast from your everyday routine and are forced to make decisions and try to get the most favorable outcome, you know something different has happening. We had to fight against time and bad luck to get ourselves back home. It was sheer good luck that I reached Alok for the tickets before he was off to buy them and that I tagged along with their. I remember that we had to leave so many people behind because the bus tickets were not available and time was constrained. Before the journey, emptied my bank balance to raise cash, and soon after that the ATM ran dry. There are so many people who were forced to camp (not camp as in putting up a tent, I meant “camping” in lodges and motels) in Calicut. There were people without a ticket and very little money, God knows what’s become of them.
All this because that day we clicked on “Vote” and the words “Your vote has been registered” appeared before us. That’s colourful Indian democracy.