Voters battle heat on ballot day

And the majority of them did so before the brief shower in the afternoon brought relief

  • Published 24.05.19, 7:45 PM
  • Updated 24.05.19, 7:45 PM
  • 5 mins read
  •  
Nearly 60 voters in queue at 7am at CK-CL community hall. (Brinda Sarkar)

Not a leaf swayed in the parks. Not a crow flew across the sky. But still, braving the heat and humidity residents thronged the booths. And the majority of them did so before the brief shower in the afternoon brought relief.

Voting began at 7am but Arati Dutta of AL Block had been waiting at the booth since 5am! “I try to be the first voter every time. It was hot but I sat on the steps outside,” she smiled. Her daughter-in-law Aparna, who was the second voter, had come with a bottle of water anticipating the heat.

When voting started at their booth in CK-CL community hall, there were already 57 people in queue, wiping their sweating brows with towels and fanning themselves with their Voter ID cards.

About an hour later at Sri Aurobindo Institute of Education, around 120 voters jostled about the halls. The heat was the hottest topic of discussion among friends and the ice-breaker among strangers.

Suparna Das had shaved her three-and-half-year-old daughter Shreyashi’s head two days back. “She is not too thrilled about it but the heat was too much!” said she, fanning the little one with a towel outside the polling station in CE Park. She had come armed with a water bottle too.

This year, the queuing area in front of each booth had been covered with a canopy but in some places the shelter was counterproductive. “It is low and slanting, thereby blocking air passage. The top layer is a black plastic sheet which is soaking in the heat,” said a jawan from the Indo Tibetan Border Police on duty at AH Block community centre around 2pm. It hardly helped that they were coming from Sikkim. “The temperature there when we left was 4°C,” he smiled ruefully.

“If there’s anything worse than this heat it’s a power cut,” lamented Ajita Roy Chowdhury, fanning herself outside EE Block community hall. “I was at my parents’ house in BK Block when the lights went out. Unable to cope I came to the booth hoping for a breeze. But it’s worse here!”

The power cut inconvenienced voters at the Rabindra Bharati University (RBU) booth. “Power went out just as I was about to cast my vote,” said Soma Talukdar of EE Block. “They took about half an hour to sort the problem.”

The EVM at AE Block’s <Bhagabati Debi Balika Vidyalaya malfunctioned for a while too. “I came at 6.30am as I didn’t want to be out in the sun for long but after waiting for more than an hour the EVM is still not working! I can’t stay any longer,” said 73-year-old Gayatri Bhattacharya, walking out.

At RBU, voters had queued up in the strip of shade created by the East West Metro viaduct. Then there was a gap of about 25 feet under the sun where people refused to stand. Again the queue continued under the canopy in the building’s driveway.

“The weather report says it might rain later in the day,” sighed Dilip Sinha of EE Block, after 30 minutes of waiting. “The skies will sprinkle shanti-r jol on us. Vote-er por sob thanda hoe jabe,” he smiled.

Sunny afternoon

“I had called up my neighbours early morning and learnt that the queues were serpentine. So my wife and I decided to come later. It would be hotter but at least it would be quick,” said Souvik Mukherjee of AK Bloxk. His wife had even come with an umbrella to hold above themselves on the bike.

At Purbachal community hall Ashish and Veena Singh had come around noon. “Yeh toh awesome wali garmi hai,” laughed Veena. “The heat cannot be described as less at any time of the day now so we thought of coming at noon, when at least the crowd is less.”

So less was the crowd that the couple got out in less than 10 minutes. “It happened so fast that we barely relished the experience of voting. We’re now trying to prolong the experience by clicking selfies. In fact, the ink on my finger isn’t showing well in photos so maybe I’ll go ask them to make it darker,” quipped Ashish.

Hot and hotter

At AD Block around noon 97-year-old voter Manomohan Ray fainted and had to be helped home by neighbours. At Labony, 88-year-old Salil Kumar Chatterjee had to take a seat under a fan to recuperate from the hot spell before he could be escorted home.

“My family members have been coming to vote in batches but the first thing we’re doing upon reaching home is guzzling down some salt and sugar solution,” said Anikesh Banerjee at around 1pm, outside Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Government College in New Town.

Right outside the college, under a tree, stood Manju Mistri selling green coconuts. “The last election was violent so I didn’t get out of the house but today business is good. It’s only midday and I’ve already sold 50 pieces. That’s double of my regular sale.”

Ice cream carts did bumper business too. “Four out of 10 voters are stopping for ice cream on their way home,” said Binoy Debnath outside Acharya Prafulla Chandra High School for Boys at 2pm.

In Salt Lake, autos and rickshaw were few in number, with some drivers having gone to vote and others not plying, expecting inadequate passengers. “So the few autos that are plying have hiked their fares,” said a driver at the Tank 8 stand. “We’re charging Rs 25 for 15 rides, asking passengers to reserve rides... We usually make Rs 500 to 600 between 5am and noon but today I’ve already made Rs 1,000.”

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Those who had come after showering and eating, said they would have to go and shower again. Some young men came dressed in baggy shorts and vests and at least one elderly gentleman came in his vest and boxer shorts.

A polling agent at CF Block community hall, Indrajit De, stepped out for a breather in the afternoon when the booth was empty for a bit. “It’s so stuffy inside it feels like a microwave,” he said.

But at Kendriya Vidyala 1 a central security personnel spoke his heart: “Voters think they are uncomfortable? At least they can take a seat once in a while. We keep standing and seldom under a fan. We can’t move away… uparwala sab dekh raha hai,” said the young man, pointing at the CCTV camera aimed at the door of the booth where he stood.

Shower surprise

As Swapan Ray of CA Block walked to Hariyana Vidya Mandir to cast his vote at about 5.20pm it began

drizzling. “I didn’t have an umbrella on me but I didn’t run back. I was quite happy to get wet,” he smiled as if his prayers had finally been answered.

Manas Majumdar, also of CA Block, had an umbrella but didn’t open it up till it started pouring. “It’s a relief it rained. All my neighbours have bought lots of mutton from CA Market this morning, hoping to host get-togethers in the evening. Now we can enjoy the weather,” he said.

But despite the mercury dropping, not many headed to the booths in the last hour, possibly because they had already cast their votes while the sun was harsh. At AD Block’s Labanhrad Vidyapith, the last voter Sayan Brahma came at 5.50pm. “I came now knowing it wouldn’t be crowded. Plus I wanted t take it easy as it’s a Sunday,” said the banker. 

Inputs from Sudeshna Banerjee, Satadipa Bhattacharya and Debasmita Bhattacharjee