The Telegraph
Monday , May 31 , 2010
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll stop for Ashes cyclist

Oliver Broom, better known as Oli, is going from England to Australia — on a bicycle. The tour, titled Cycling to the Ashes — he reaches Brisbane in November, in time to catch the all-important series — is aimed to create awareness about cricket. The 29-year-old property consultant happened to be in Calcutta the day the city was voting for its next civic board. So he cycled from Park Street to New Market to College Street on Sunday morning. This is what the cricket fanatic thought of Sourav Ganguly’s hometown on poll day.

I can’t believe how quiet it is. It is nice actually. Like the suburbs of London. Of course I do not know whether it is like this every Sunday here, but I have seen other Indian cities during weekends and they are not so quiet.

Park Street is deserted at 11.30am. You’ll never see London so quiet for a local election. I would say in England the attendance is not so good for a local election. I have never voted for any local election, though I have never missed a general election. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that the different states here have more distinctive identities. For example, here when I move from Orissa to West Bengal, there is a clear difference. West Bengal is cleaner than Orissa. But in England if you move from one borough to another, you wouldn’t even notice.

So much here is different. Back home, we don’t have posters and banners all over town put up by the political parties. Candidates just go from door to door to campaign. And parties do not set up camps outside polling booths. Except for a small sign to direct voters where to go at the station, there are no external manifestations that it is election time. Nor would there be so many cops stationed everywhere.

There are no voter identity cards back home. Voters are divided into different areas and the polling booth maintains a list of the voters who are supposed to cast their vote there. We carry some document for identification and once you have cast your vote, your name is struck off on the list. No ink mark on your finger. I think that is more typically Indian – a bit of body art! My mom, and many like her, would go mad if we had that system in England!

I am told that Calcutta is a strong communist bastion but surprisingly, I haven’t noticed so many red flags. The flags that I saw the most were these tricolour flags with the symbol of the hand in the middle. I had mistaken them for the national flag, but I am told they are the Congress banners.

It’s good to cycle through the city today. Usually it’s hell cycling through Indian cities, because of the transport and the chaos. I like Calcutta. I had heard about the city from my mom, whose airline job often brought her to various Indian cities. I have heard her talking about Tollygunge. Calcutta’s my favourite Indian city. Mumbai was too hectic, Chennai was dirty and Delhi… don’t remember liking Delhi too much.

Calcutta is chilled out and the people are warm. I liked the trams. There is a clear demarcation between the different parts of the city. The northern part of the city is older, more traditional. Even the people seem different there. I have been to Kumartuli, like a bit of rural India in the heart of the city. Park Street is more multi-cultural, more westernised, more modern. You have KFC and McDonald’s. (I have been to Oly Pub and seen the Oly rats!). I have also been to Prinsep Ghat, the Maidan and, yes, Victoria Memorial.

(As told to Poulomi Banerjee)

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