Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I ate all your bananas....

I was remembering the Mathematics teacher who taught the unforgettable lesson "Zero multiplied by anything is Zero". He was popularly known by his initials SR. He was a strict disciplinarian and a versatile man with many talents. He was a very capable man and could handle tough situations with ease.

Indian Cricket depends on Rahul Dravid for doing all the tough work. He will be called upon to do all the donkey work and to play in South Africa and England on the bouncy pitches and ignored for other series. This BCCI appears to have learnt this from Government of India. Government of India depends on Teachers for all the jobs meant for workhorses. Whether it is Census or Election or Survey, teachers are deputed. There was a Panchayat Election when I was studying in 10th standard, in 1967 or 1968. As usual, teachers were to be drafted to act as Presiding Officers and Polling Officers. A preliminary meeting was called by the Tahasildar who was the Returning Officer for the elections in the taluk. SR was living on the same street as we did and being known to each other my father and SR were sitting side by side in the meeting. When it came to allotment of the Officers for the Kodihalli booth, the Tahasildar asked SR to be the Presiding Officer and my father was one among the three Polling Officers allotted to that booth.

Kodihalli is a relatively big place and had maximum voters for a booth. The village had a history of group rivalries and was among the sensitive booths in the Taluk. Each Polling Booth is run by by a Presiding officer with three assistants called Polling Officers; first one to verify the voter's identity and call out his name loudly to enable the agents of the contesting candidates to mark off in their copies of lists to avoid double/duplicate voting, the second to hand over the ballot paper and obtain signature of the voter as acknowledgement (in those days it was mostly Thumb Impression) and the third to place the indelible ink mark on the left index finger (if the voter does not have the left index finger, then the right index finger; if that is also not available then some other available finger etc. as defined by the rule book!). The Presiding Officer sits with a Polling Box, sealed at the start of polling process in the presence of representatives of contesting candidates,  placed in front of him and watches the entire process till the voter deposits the ballot paper in the Ballot box. He has the responsibility of intervening in case of disputes and ensure free and fair election in the booth. He is also bestowed with special powers to take care of emergent circumstances. Each booth is also provided with a Police Constable and a Home Guard to assist formation of ques and maintenance of orderly polling in the booth. All the polling staff are required to collect the polling material and camp at the booth overnight. Their duty is over only when the entire polling material along with sealed Vote Boxes are handed over to the Returning officer's representative. Any violation attracts severe penalty. With the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines, issue of Ballot Paper is dispensed with but the other procedure remains the same.

I was well versed in the poll procedure as a student since I used to read the Instruction Manual my father used to bring with him. The Presiding Officer has the powers to appoint a boy to serve water to the voters and polling staff and help in the other errands. The boy is also paid a small honorarium for this job. Almost in every election some teacher or the other used to take me along with them to do this job. This was mainly because I was able to count and seal unused ballot papers, Challenge and Tender votes and fill in other summary documents of the polls in neat handwriting. Challenge and Tender votes arise when a voter finds that his vote is already cast when he comes to the booth, Challenges the vote already cast and exercises his right by paying the prescribed nominal fee or when the identity of the voter is challenged by rival agents of candidates.

Kodihalli is ten miles from Kanakapura. SR and my father were strict vegetarians and there were no hotels in Kodihalli in those days. Polling staff are not permitted to accept any hospitality from the local people due to political affiliations, but this rule is generally broken by consensus between the Polling staff and agents of candidates. My father ordered me take his lunch from our home around noon to Kodihalli which was a half an hour ride by bus from Kanakapura. He also suggested that I should ask SR so that his lunch bag from his home could be carried along with my father's lunch bag. SR gladly agreed as it solved a major problem for him as well. In the bargain I lost the chance to work as a "Helper" in that election.

I collected both lunch bags and went to Kodihalli around noon on the next day. When I arrived at the Polling Booth, in a school building,  the atmosphere was a bit tense. There were heated exchanges between rival groups outside the booth. PC and Home Guard were trying their best to control the situation. I went inside the booth and kept the lunch bags in an adjoining room and sat on a stool watching the goings on. Tempers rose and within a few minutes two groups led by the rival candidates barged into the polling room. They shouted at the Presiding Officer and complained that the other group was bringing bogus voters. Polling staff and myself were afraid that the situation may go out of control. SR was trying to pacify both the groups and convince them that voters were screened strictly and irrespective of what was happening outside, polling in the booth was absolutely fair and in order. One person in the group rushed towards the polling officer holding the ballot papers.

This was the moment when strong action was required. SR who was cool all along suddenly raised his voice. Like he used to speak at the school assembly with over 300 students. "All of you will  get out of the hall immediately. Otherwise I will cancel the polls and request the Returning Officer to order for a re-poll. The entire process of elections will get postponed. If any one touches the polling material or polling staff I will order their arrest for violation of poll code". His booming voice and body language had the desired effect. No candidate wanted delay in the polling process. The booth was cleared of the intruders and polling resumed. The atmosphere continued a bit tense but nothing untoward happened thereafter.

After sometime SR and my father had their lunch in the adjoining room; SR first followed by my father. When I was about to collect the empty boxes and bags SR came to me and asked "Where did you get those bananas? They were very good. Did my wife give it or you purchased in the shop?". I told him that they were Nanjanagud Rasa Baale, a variety grown extensively near Mysore and Nanjanagud area and actually grown in our backyard. They are small in size but very tasty.  "Are keshav, you should have told me. I was tense and the fruits were very sweet. I ate all your bananas and left only two for your father!".  I told him not to worry about it as we had many more at home. My father could compensate quite well in the evening. The three of us had a hearty laugh.

Those ten bananas broke the wall of fear between SR and myself. I was able to talk to him and interact freely thereafter. The only regret is that Nanjanagud Rasa Baale along with Butti Chiguru betel leaves and Mysore's famous Eranagere brinjal are no longer available. These specie are now lost and we are left only with Hybrid variety.

1 comment:

  1. Its very interesting. While reading I could visualise the incidents like when I read RKNarayan's.