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Ink Poll debut, post-50

Today, well after my 50th birthday, I was able to vote for the first time in the Republic of India.

Before returning to Calcutta to teach at Presidency University in 2012, I had lived away from my hometown for 28 years. At various times, I could have become an American or British citizen. Since India does not allow dual citizenship, I held on to my Indian passport, knowing that I would vote in India some day.

It felt like a festival of sorts today. Roads were mostly empty. Shutters were drawn. The relentless sun had not deterred the steady stream of voters. Our poll station was next to the quaintly named Ladiesí Park in Bhowanipore, which brought back memories of so many para football matches I had played there as a kid.

Soon after I had turned 21, I left to study at Trinity College, Oxford. One morning barely a month after my arrival there, I was abruptly stopped as I sleepily shuffled towards the breakfast hall. ďI am sorry for you, sirĒ, said the MCR butler, leaning over. He had been waiting for me.

ďWhat? Why, Nelson? Are we out of hash browns again?Ē

ďNo, sirĒ, Nelson did not flinch. ďYour Prime Minister has been killed, sir. Shot by her own guards. What a bloody shame, sirĒ.

That woke me up better than a triple shot espresso would. That was the first act of such violence in Indian politics in my lifetime. Following this, in December, Rajiv Gandhi swept the polls with 404 seats. I could have voted but I was in England, experiencing my first snow and the coldest spell in England since the Great War.

I also missed the general elections of 1989 and 1991, held when I was a student at Cambridge and a researcher at Harvard. I had called the Indian embassy to ask whether I could remotely vote. I was told this would not be possible.

To this day the Indian government, in spite of all the advances in voting technology, continues to deprive the 25 million non-resident eligible voters of their electoral rights. Most democratic nations allow their citizens to vote by mail, proxy or Internet. Even astronauts can vote from the International Space Station. Within India, citizens who live away from their native towns are unable to vote.

I have voted at every opportunity in various elections in the United Kingdom as a Commonwealth citizen resident. For instance, I played my part in bringing down Mrs Thatcher in 1990, and yet I was unable to protest the demolition of Babri Masjid through the electoral process.

I have often marvelled at how Sukumar Sen and the early electioneers came up with the very effective early system of symbols and ballots, faced with an 85 per cent illiterate electorate in 1950. He would have approved of the blue-buttoned electronic board.

My mother suffers from osteoarthritis, and has not been able to visit the polling booth for a decade. We went together to vote today. My wait had been longer, but the first vote of my life was worth the wait.

The author is head of the physics department at Presidency University

first brush with indelible

Name: Shreya Singh

  • Age: 18
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Calcutta South
  • Poll Booth: Kishore Bharati School
  • I decided to vote because: We have to do our part to support the democracy we have been gifted with.
  • I went to vote with: My mother
  • My first-vote experience: The infamous inefficiency of the process was absent. It was well executed.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Will be home reading.

Name: Jyotika Mansata

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Calcutta South
  • Poll booth: Catholic Mission School
  • I decided to vote because: Itís important that everyone exercises his/her right because it will have an impact, however small.
  • I went to vote with: My mother and grandmother
  • My first-vote experience: The whole thing was over in less than 30 seconds! There can be a lot of improvement. I know of people who have voter ID cards but their names are not on the rolls.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Have exams in less than a week, so shall go home and study.

Name: Sarbik Guha

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Calcutta South
  • Poll booth: Adarsh Hindi High School
  • I decided to vote because: Voting is my basic and most effective right as a citizen.
  • I went to vote with: My parents
  • My first-vote experience: There were a few people when I went to vote. After walking out of the polling booth I had this feeling of recognition as a responsible citizen of India.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Watch the new episode of Game of Thrones.

Name: Sarah Kalam

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student/ entrepreneur
  • Constituency: Calcutta South
  • Poll booth: Park Circus Sarat Memorial Institute
  • I decided to vote because: Not voting was never an option.
  • I went to vote with: My mom
  • My first-vote experience: I was fearing chaos but it was peaceful.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Sleep.

Name: Rwitoban Deb

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Calcutta South
  • Poll booth: Nava Nalanda School
  • I decided to vote because: I had been eagerly looking forward to this day.
  • I went to vote with: My parents
  • My first-vote experience: It was peaceful and organised.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: I voted in the first hour so that I could get back home in time for Episode 6 of Game of Thrones.

Name: Anwesha Bhattacharjee

  • Age: 21
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Barasat
  • Poll booth: Purbachal Community Centre
  • I decided to vote because: I do not want certain parties to win and hence voting against them would actually increase the chances of that happening.
  • I went to vote with: My mother
  • My first-vote experience: There were few people my age. Most were above 50. That was shocking.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Watch news channels.

Name: Sanjana Ray

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Jadavpur
  • Poll booth: Satyajit Kolkata Youth Centre
  • I decided to vote because: Iím finally eligible and Iím going to do my part to make a difference. Every single vote counts.
  • I went to vote with: My parents.
  • My first-vote experience: I was excited and nervous. Iíd heard about trouble in some pockets but everything went off smoothly in my booth.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Iím going to find out more about the procedure from my parents.

Name: Disha Raychaudhuri

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Jadavpur
  • Poll booth: Purna Chandra Institution
  • I decided to vote because: No matter how small my contribution is, it will decide whether things get better or worse.
  • I went to vote with: My father
  • My first-vote experience: The process was quite speedyÖ. I had to wait for just 10 minutes. The people there were quite helpful and organised.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Watch news to know how the polling went in other parts of the city.

Name: Kabir Chattopadhyay

  • Age: 22
  • Occupation: Student/ musician
  • Constituency: Calcutta South
  • Poll booth: Basudebpur Anjuman KMC School
  • I decided to vote because: To try and stop the spread of religious fundamentalism.
  • I went to vote with: My family
  • My first-vote experience: The officials were helpful and efficient. The process was smooth. It seemed to me that people were apprehending trouble. That should not be happening in a democratic country.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: I will carry on with my regular activities ó watch a film, go for rehearsals.

Name: Meghla Banerjee

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Calcutta North
  • Poll booth: Mahavir Institution of Education
  • I decided to vote because: Iím a citizen of the worldís largest democracy. It is my duty to vote and do my part for the betterment of my country.
  • I went to vote with: My family
  • My first-vote experience: It took me less than a minute to cast my vote. The process was hassle-free. It was a great experience.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Iíll click a selfie since thatís the rage now.

Name: Debdeep Banerjee

  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Constituency: Dum Dum
  • Poll booth: Baguiati Free Primary School
  • I decided to vote because: At times when nation-building and development deserve the first priority, it is the duty of every citizen to exercise his/her right to vote.
  • I went to vote with: My family
  • My first-vote experience: It was a mixed bag. I had to stand in the heat for an hour. The security was tight. The process was smooth but lengthy.
  • How Iíll spend the rest of the day: Iíll enjoy the rest of the day with my family. A good Bengali platter for lunch is on the cards, to be followed by the IPL.