Whenever I read anything written by Salman Rushdie who reached the zenith of popularity almost overnight for his book The Satanic Verses, I always notice that he uses too many semi-colons and too few full-stops. I have noticed that on an average in a paragraph he sometimes uses one or could be two full-stops. The ratio of semi-colons to full-stops in an average paragraph would be around five to one or could be even more.
While reading any of his books I remember my M. Sc. classmate Amitava Chakravarty (during those days he was more popular by the name Aashish). One day he drew our attention on a welcome note written by the Head of the Department of Biochemistry Prof. Gora Chad Chatterjee (G. C. Chatterjee). I think it was a welcome address for one of our department functions. None of us had noticed till Amitava drew our attention that in each paragraph there was only one full-stop and our professor was also highly charitable with semi-colons. We were fortunate to see one full-stop in each paragraph because the language does not allow any sentence to be broken into two or more paragraphs.
Salman Rushdie’s writing has another unique feature – events are generally not in chronological order.
One day I was browsing his book The Satanic Verses at a bookstore in Melbourne.
A gentleman, who was standing beside me and was apparently browsing a book suddenly asked, “Is this book not banned in your country?”
From his accent I could make out that probably he was a Canadian or an American and not an Australian. At the end of our conversation when he did not wish me a good death I became sure again that he was not an Australian. (When an Australian greets other by saying ‘good day’ it sounds like ‘good die’.)
“Yes it is. I think India is the first country to ban the book” I replied with an intention not to discuss any further on the subject.
“But why, India is not a Muslim majority country”, he asked again. He sounded very curious.
“No it is not”, I replied and pretended to read something from the book in order to avoid any further question on the subject.
“But yours is a democratic country where people vote”, he again asked. It appeared that he was so curious that he did not care to notice that I was trying to read something.
“Yes we vote every five years”, I replied.
“Then” and he kept looking at me in such a way that I had to give some reply to him.
“Because our democracy is still at its infancy, at least it is not mature enough like countries in Europe or North America”. Then I narrated to him my first voting experience.
I was a student of M. Sc. when I first voted. During those days voting was done using ballot papers instead of electronic voting machines.
When I was just few meters away from the election booth I heard an old lady, whom I had never seen before calling me from behind, “Baba-ektu-sono-to” (my son I want to talk to you). When I walked near her she asked me without the slightest hesitation, “Please tell me whom should I vote for.” I could realize that either she did not ask the question to any one in her home or in her home everybody was like her. While walking towards the election center she surely had met multiple election agents belonging to different political parties and each agent asked her to vote for the agent’s party and at the end she was totally confused and asked me for which party she should vote. I realized that voting right should not be conferred to her or anybody like her.
But in any democratic country voting is considered as a right and not a privilege.
In India every political party is allowed to use a unique symbol for election. Examples of few such symbols are cow, tractor, motor car etc. A voter needs to know the symbol of the political party he or she would like to vote for. In the election booth the voter needed to stamp on that symbol in the printed ballot paper and drop the stamped ballot paper in a box. If any voter stamped on more than one symbol or did not stamp on any symbol his or her vote was not counted.
I told the old lady to stamp on the first two symbols on the ballot paper and not to tell others for whom she had voted.
Even after so many years during the time of every election I still think about the old lady and wonder how many such people are still taking part in the largest democracy of the blue planet.