Voting makes you feel like a part of something
No motor vehicles were to run from the night before, from midnight to be precise, but the votes must be cast.
My family is a tiny vote bank consisting of four voters, including my grandmother. None of us was sure, even the night before, whether we would be able to exercise our right as citizens of this little faux-utopia.
Our polling centre was unfortunately closer to our old address than our current one, hence, not at all a walking distance. The no-vehicle policy had made things worse.
At around 8am, because ours is a little vote bank of early risers, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to actually show up at my centre and have my finger inked. Two other responsible citizens, ie, my mother and father, were equally enthusiastic. No car, no problem. We were to go on foot.
My parents are old, and the walk would surely take a toll on them, perhaps later tonight. Nanu is around 80 or more, people from “that time” when they never used to keep track, it was never necessary. We noticed a hungry look in her eyes when we were getting ready to leave the house. I prayed that I never see a day when I can’t go on my 5k runs. I prayed that I never get left behind because it’s just impossible to take me.
From Mirpur DOHS to Kalshir Mor, there weren’t a lot of people around. The local children were having a field day, out with their badminton rackets and cricket bats. Many were crying popular slogans from this year’s campaigns. Some were dancing to the familiar moves. Puppies -- they were either playing with the children, or busy sleeping in the abandoned shamiana-stations of the campaigners.
We saw a few enthusiasts on the streets though. One lady in particular was busy speaking very loudly on the phone. From her phone conversation and a little chitchat with me, I learned that she was on her way to her polling centre in Lalmatia.
My panting parents decided to take rickshaws till the cantonment MP check post at Matikata. Our rickshaw-pullers were vocal and were probably having heated discussions before giving us a lift. We refrained from any accidental opinion reveals, and decided to talk about regular things. My job, Ammu’s recipes, some weddings to attend, things to do about my future, our future.
We changed rickshaws at the check post. Yellow jacketed cantonment rickshaw-pullers perhaps overcharged, while the “civilian” Matikata ones offered us a fair price. The cantonment looked a little livelier. People were walking on the streets with all sorts of things, food in neat tiffin carriers, national IDs clutched in their hands, water bottles for long walks like ours, babies wrapped in flannel. The only kind of motor vehicles we saw thus far were ambulances, mostly empty or full of healthy-looking individuals. “I wonder if Bangladesh is sick today,” went Ammu. She should seriously consider charging people for her golden words.
Our polling centre was the famous Adamjee Cantonment College. People were only beginning to stir that early in the morning, and we found the place more or less without an overwhelming crowd. I take pride in calling myself a resourceful daughter.
My father and I had, on the previous night, found out where we were to vote. I brought print-outs of the pages that appeared once we had entered our NID numbers in the Election Commission website. With serial numbers that made no sense, we marched in and got matched to our rooms. It took around five minutes to find out where to go, and it helped us skip the line in front of the slip-collection tables. Those magic slips had serial numbers on them.
Nobody peeped in while I cast my vote behind the dark screen. Nobody threatened me with weapons. Nobody told me, or rather forced me, to vote for a particular party.
Papa told me about a polling agent that he had met. “Which party are you representing?” revealed his political allegiance. “Very good,” said Papa and patted his back.
We took selfies with our fingers turned inkside-up. It serves as proof of some sense of accomplishment. It’s placebo, it’s make-believe freedom to say what we want to say, elect who we want to elect.
It’s a placebo
Getting home, we discovered that my phuppi and phuppa’s votes had been cast. They live in Mirpur now, in our building, two floors below us. Their centre was at Monipuri Para. They didn’t have to take the trouble of going there at all. The nation is thankful to ghosts like these, for whom many of us did not have to move a muscle.
A friend shared his experience of voting. His “omochoniyo kali” washed off in the shower. Earlier, the people at the centre did not budge when he asked them to leave him alone while casting the actual vote.
They stared and made sure that the seal was stamped on the correct “marka”.
Countless other experiences like that, all documented, all gracing our Facebook timelines. All of them will disappear from our memories and our timelines by tomorrow morning. Eikhane keu kacha kaj kore na, that I can assure you.
Maybe we are one of the happiest nations on Earth, according to some survey, but in no way are we delusional. Politics may divide us on many occasions, but we are united in the front of awareness. One does not need to read Orwell to understand these things.
We understand, and know very well that our votes have meant next to nothing, and will continue to mean nothing, for a foreseeable future.
So what did we do today, my little family of responsible citizens? Whose time did we waste today? Not ours, for sure, we had a lot of fun spending some much-needed quality time.
You, if you’re reading this, need to know that you probably wasted your own time today. You know who you are.
Qazi Mustabeen Noor works at Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.