This US election season has been a wearying one. I don’t think any other election has been discussed this feverishly and with this much passion for so long by so many people. I have watched as the media fanned people’s guilty pleasures by trumping up Trump – he has given them lots of material and far from ignoring him, the media and the audience have helped boost his megalomania.
Now this is when people look to me like I am going to let drip my own electoral analysis and stump you all with my keen insights and well reasoned theories. The Economist, The Political Strategist, The Clairvoyant you think and look at me with your ears hanging onto my every word. I feel like I am back as a girl in history class in sixth grade again when I could not for the life of me answer why the Mughals had an interest in India, though the teacher held me with an expectant eye. My elder sister had blazed on ahead of me, and consequently many teachers spent their time giving me expectant looks to see if their polite gleam would nudge my hereditary brilliance, but every time I gave them an answer like the blog post below, and had them head to a corner cradling their head in their arms and moaning gently that my poor sister could have been blessed with someone brighter for a sibling.
Anyway, here goes:
The journeys across Tamil Nadu in South India to visit my grandmother in Trichy were affairs filled with anticipation and joy. There were a number of different routes one could take, and a number of different methods in which to travel. Some routes passed through the poorest sections of Tamil Nadu, where female infanticide was rife, education was trying to make its dent, but making no headway etc. Daily life in these belts was and is a struggle.
Frequently, we were on local buses with folks piling in from the local villages and getting off at the nearest town to sell their wares. One journey stands out in my mind in the light of this long drawn election drama between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The bus stopped at a local stop and several folks clambered on. One was selling fish and the other mangoes. The one selling jasmine was sitting two seats ahead of us and the smell of fresh jasmines was wafting welcomingly with the breeze that a moving bus with open windows entails. The fish and the mangoes would soon be added to this and one wondered what the experience would be like.
My father and I were sitting stretching somewhat luxuriously on a three seater, when the mango-lady eyed us. She had on her broad forehead a large bindi, her ear lobes sagged with the weight of her earrings and her hands were liberally tattooed. She gingerly balanced on her head a large wicker basket of mangoes. She was accompanied by her ten year old grand daughter and the pair of them squeezed themselves, the wicker basket and a bag on a three seater where two of us were already sitting. One she had squashed everyone and everything but the mangoes, she turned and gave us a radiant smile. We smiled back, knowing that mangoes were better than dead fish as neighbors. Life teaches you to look for the silver lining in many ways.
As the bus bumped its ways along the tree lined roads, the mango seller started talking. She was not one to hold back her opinions, a trait that must have stood her well in the realm of mango sales no doubt, but one somewhat constricting on a three seater with 3 adults, 2 children, a bag and a comfortably seated basket of mangoes. She roundly abused the Chief Minister of the day, Jayalalitha, and had several things to say about the policy regarding Farmers Markets, raise in bus fares etc.
My father was listening to her rant on how politicians were out to drown the daily lives of honest hardworking folks like her. He then asked her if she voted. “Of course!” she said.
Would you vote for Jayalalitha? he asked.
She looked shocked. I would not sully my lips with that, she sputtered ominously stewing her betel leaves juice. She then leaned her bulk over us and crushed several co-passengers bones before she spat the betel juice out of the bus window. She settled back in and went on about the various ways in which she thought Jayalalitha was a bad choice for her.
So which symbol will you vote for then? asked the father.
“Why the errata elai (இரட்டை எலை – two leaves) of course!” she said. I gasped. My father then said to her as gently as he could, that by voting erattai elai (the symbol for two leaves), she was in fact voting for Jayalalitha. She looked confused.
I don’t know how much she got of the explanations the father was giving her about symbols, party nominations and such, for as the bus stopped at the town and she heaved herself out, she said doubtfully, “But we have always voted for erattai elai”.
Once the mangoes, fish and jasmine ladies left the bus, we fell to discussing the recent bizarre turn of events. It is the lack of education in these belts that is the problem, said the father sadly. They realize that electing Jayalalitha is bad for them, but they will go on voting for her symbol. Unless education spreads, there is no hope. That ten year old grand daughter of hers stands a chance, if she is sent to school, but look at what she is doing? She is helping her grandmother sell mangoes and listens to her say that erattai elai is the way to go. I wish formal schooling can be extended to everyone, he said and I agreed sadly.
Watching the long drawn election drama between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump makes me realize that formal schooling may not be the solution after all. I watch people head into rallies saying things like ‘Even if we don’t like Trump very much, we will still vote Republican.’
If we continue to vote based on what we have always done, we are no better than that poor, uneducated, old lady selling mangoes and hoping her lot will improve, are we? In the words of Maria Popova: Allow yourselves the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
P.S: Given that the Tamil Nadu electorate has flip-flopped between electing the rising-sun or the two-leaves many times since that conversation, I am sure a good many mango sellers did change their mind over the course of time.