“Where are you from?”
I am often asked this question.
I blame my non distinctive looks that place me anywhere from the North Eastern region of India to Nepal, Tibet, Thailand. Once I was even excitedly pegged for a Japanese by my country men.
Closer home, confusion reigns supreme in my state of Uttarakhand. Folks take me for a Garhwali thanks to my extremely common Garhwali surname where as I happen to be a true blue Kumaoni.
Does it matter?
Not really. The two clans resemble each other physically, culturally and live together like peas in a pod. In fact meet one outside the state and it is like an automatic membership to the Fellowship of The Hills.
Paharis rock and rule!
Still, it doesn’t stop the twenty questions. Hence, I have memorised the name of my ancestral village and can list the Kumaoni dishes with a gusto, although in all honesty I can’t cook them and I was 11 the last time I visited the village.
Makes me wonder how much of a Kumaoni I am.
At least my identity as an Indian is intact; I have a Voter I-Card, a Pan Card, an Aadhar Card and a Passport to prove it. These are handy documents an Indian citizen should possess, especially in this election year.
April is the month that gets the Election Mahakumbh in India rolling. As my mama says, the utopian world of Indian democracy takes centre stage. It is on TV debates, in newspaper headlines, social media jokes, memes, driving conversations in social circles, blaring through loudspeakers on the roads and in the rallies, disrupting traffic, sleep, thoughts.
I was determined to cast my vote, the other two adults in my family were not registered in the electoral rolls.
Anyway, after a frantic hunt that involved rummaging through a million bags, I located my elusive Voter I- card. I carried that and a voter slip that had been hand delivered home a few days earlier. This slip was essentially a photocopy of my voter I-card with my photograph and directions to the polling station; it was a primary school in the next lane.
Evidence of election fever at its zenith was everywhere.
Colourful party flags and banners festooned the road side, tables under the shade of the trees buzzed with busy volunteers, snatches of conversations revolving around party leadership and election strategy swirled in the air.
I entered the school gates and gave my slip to the first of the officials who checked and directed me to the room where I had to cast my vote.
Luckily, my room had the shortest queue. Next door, the line snaked all the way to the main gates; I heard their Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) was not working.
Anyway, I gave the slip to the next set of officials seated with registers in front of them. I acknowledged my name as each ticked it against my information in those duplicate registers. Lastly I handed over my Voter I- card for confirmation as another register was shoved towards me to sign and get my finger inked. The official took my I-card, peered at the photograph and then theatrically held it as though matching it to my face.
He announced, “This photograph is of a person with short hair and a slim face. Is this really you?”
It was a Mission Impossible movie moment. Agent Ethan Hunt for once was not in a disguise, but was held up by a security guard. The hitch, he looked older but still devilishly handsome with long hair whipping his face. His I-card on the other hand, had a photograph that launched his career in MI 1.
It wasn’t Ethan Tom Cruise Hunt’s fault!
It was called growing older although truthfully, I may not be ageing as well as he does.
Still, think about it- the photo in those multiple registers and the slip I carried, all had the same picture as the Voter I-card I had in my hand.
The person in the photograph was me!
Yes, I voted.