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Voice of America in vote for Mr Paribartan
Vignettes of vibrant poll in quiet city

Douglas G. Kelly, the director of American Center, went on a whistle-stop tour on Wednesday for a first-hand experience of his first general elections in Calcutta. The man from Pennsylvania, stationed in the city since October 2006, shared his insights with Metro:

Stop One: Mominpur (11.30am)

Itís a mixed neighbourhood, typical of Calcutta. The area looked pretty relaxed. There were hardly any cars, so people were walking on the roads.

The queue outside the May Flower English School wasnít too long. The shops were closed and it looked like people were taking a holiday. That was good because it allowed people to contemplate, talk to others and decide on their vote.

America should probably try this too. Not all places in the US declare Election Day a holiday. Most people go to vote before or after work or during lunch. Many donít vote because they find it hard to take a break from work.

My driver is from Mominpur. He wasnít sure whether he would get an autorickshaw or a bus to get to the polling booth. I saw about 50 buses parked outside David Hare Training College in Ballygunge for two whole days. Itís appalling that several thousand buses are needed to transport poll personnel, and not voters. In the US, transportation options are the same every day.

Something called absentee ballot is becoming popular in the US. Those living outside their home state can apply for a paper ballot that they can mark and mail to the appropriate address. Absentee ballot is especially useful for Americans living outside the country. Thatís how I voted for the presidential elections last year. More absentee ballots were used in that election than ever before.

In a few states, one is allowed to vote through postal ballot even if one is in the US. But the majority still goes to the polling stations.

Stop Two: Favourite Cabin on Surya Sen Street, (11.45am)

It was good to see most people discussing elections. Some seemed pessimistic but the overall enthusiasm was indicative of a vibrant democracy. [A man sporting a white T-shirt with a hammer and sickle, red hat and red check gamchha around the neck walked in while Kelly was in the tea and snacks stop] In the US someone wearing a communist T-shirt would be considered a radical, but in Calcutta it seems normal.

I was in South Korea in the 1960s and was witness to the countryís first brush with democracy. The atmosphere of the elections in India was quite different.

The Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, which I have seen, was also very different from the parliamentary elections in Calcutta. With everything closing down in the city, it seemed like a bandh day.

Stop Three: Hare School, College Street (noon)

The area, when it is bustling with people, reminds me of college life in America. The queue seemed to be moving quickly, which is surprising. In the US, there are queues as well and the process can be long. Afternoons and after-work hours are usually the most crowded. Election campaigns in America might be very long but the polls are over in a day and by that very night, we get to know the results.

Stop Four: Dalhousie Square (12.15pm)

This is Ground Zero of the famous Calcutta chaos. On Wednesday, however, the trams were moving with rare speed. It is a reminder of how different the quality of life would be with less traffic on the road.

Dalhousie looked like a ghost town! It was hard to believe that the streets and the footpaths could be so empty.

Stop Five: Esplanade, (12.30pm)

Esplanade looked like aliens came and zapped everybody off into outer space! When you look around 360 degrees in Esplanade you get to see at least 10,000 people at one go. On Wednesday, there were hardly 10 people around. I wondered how pleasant the city would be with less crowd, pollution and noise. Election Day is not only about democracy in action. It also makes you ponder about the quality of life ó what is missing and what is there.

(As told to Mohua Das)

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