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Is we ain't, or ain't we is...a Constituency?
I think we is.
19:43 in the conference room of the Confluence Club. The (precariously) affluence club.
There is a crowd of around 50 people maybe. Chairs placed in vague rows and columns, a long table placed at the head of the room. An avenue slices the middle. 19:43 is an hour and thirteen minutes too late. The dishonourable Member of our legislative assembly entertains notions of being a rockstar perhaps.
The middle-aged man acting as the Convenor has the job of placating the crowd. The crowd isn’t exactly impatient. They are aware of what they are getting into. “The cost of trying to be an active citizen” as my friend puts it. Your time and energy; you have to gag your inner brat.
‘We’ve got some 80 new names enrolled in the voters’ list. Last year we had at least 150 names enrolled. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t got your voter ID card. You can still vote. In fact, we’ll tell the MLA when he’s here, that we plan to vote regardless of the ID cards.’
- The Convenor
The crowd beams in approval. They nod in affirmation.
The crowd fragments into pockets of discussion. There is always some problem to discuss. Water supply issues, electricity tariffs, maintenance costs - we’ve got to ensure the gates of the community remain standing.
The door is complacently still. Look at it long enough, you feel like it’ll announce the arrival of the dishonourable any moment now. But the door aims to disappoint.
The Convenor says irrespective of this MLA meeting, the people of the colony ought to meet more often and discuss their issues. Another grey-haired gentleman, from the left-hand side of the aisle, stands up to give a report. The incessant aggregate chattering sound of the crowd dies down.
He says that the community housing board is in the middle of re-negotiations with the property developer, about the maintenance of the roads and the gardens. The infrastructure and the waste need to be sorted too. The Developer’s interest is not in maintenance, they just want to expand the colony, and build more houses to sell. They are playing hardball in the negotiations, the gentleman says - they know if we get an outside private contractor for the maintenance we’ll have to pay double.
The underlying point, needing no explicit articulation - the cost of living is gonna climb up the stairs. Sooner or later.
It sounds a hell lot like taking care of your house. Housekeeping. You can procrastinate. You can finish a task or two. But, it is a fact that housekeeping is eternal. Always a corner dusty, an appliance malfunctioning, a wall peeling off, or a faucet leaking. It’ll never end. You’ll die sooner than have your house in absolute, perfect and flawless condition.
So it seems to be, even at the level of the community. Or the neighbourhood. Probably the country. Why not the world? It’ll never be alright. There will always be an issue. And we’ll spend our waking lives trying to problem solve. Otherwise, we’ll get depressed.
‘We pay so many taxes…we pay some of the highest property taxes…but almost all our amenities are privately sourced.’
- A Lady in the Crowd
Some vehement murmurs of agreement amidst the crowd. Looking side to side, and nodding in approval. Approval of the point. Disapproval of the situation though. Then someone a little more pedantic raised the issue that the road leading up to the Community gates was private. Beyond the government’s purview.
The plight of suburbia.
Last mile connectivity is a larger pertinent problem though, the Convenor responds. We should bring this up with the MLA, he says.
‘Feel free to ask direct questions. Don’t be shy to press him. Often times these guys get away coz people are too polite with them’
- An Emboldened Convenor
Discussions break in and out of pockets. People are dismayed they don’t know the names of any of the opposition candidates. It must be “Gauda,” said someone from the crowd. Could the gentleman Convenor please tell the MLA that the Congress and the JD(s) candidates have already come and met us and gone, someone joked. Laughter amongst the crowd clearly settling down, and making peace with the bloodletting of their time.
The Convenor smiled and said that the MLA was smarter than him. He would as the name of the JD(s) candidate.
‘Just say “Gauda”’
- Some Guy from the Crowd
People were leaving their chairs and stretching their legs. I thought it wise to follow suit. I went out of the Club premises altogether. Maybe my presence on the road would catalyse a convoy of SUVs to start choogling in.
Nope. Just a few people from the neighbourhood clocking in their evening walks and adda. Indifferent to the civic efforts of the virtuous few inside the Confluence Club.
I went back in.
The mood appeared to have popped off its collar. People now hung around the doorway and the hall outside the conference room. Tea and snacks being served.
Ofc. The crowd ain’t gonna turn into a mob if their sugar levels are maintained.
Back in the conference room: big patches of empty chairs. Chairs that have assumed a different formation. People seem to have consolidated their own pockets of discussion. The upcoming elections, the favourites to win. Blasé blasé.
Someone rightly pointed out - our worries were municipal ward-level worries. panchayat level worries. A state legislator couldn’t possibly actually care or concern themselves with such trivialities.
To which the Convenor mentions a meeting a little while back that he and two others from the colony had attended. A meeting where the MLA had said that we are a rich panchayat. We just had to write a letter to the panchayat office for the Lake rejuvenation initiative, 12 Lakhs had been arranged for it. Racks on stacks, if you ask me.
But, the Convenor concluded, there had been no response to the letter sent.
The tables placed in the front of the room, had glasses of water and typed-up papers listing the typed-up demands, the issues that the members of the meeting had thought definitive enough to be inscribed. A list for every chair behind the table. Every chair still vacant.
I sat for a bit longer and it was getting to be 20:15. The crowd’s patience ran deep. I lost it. I headed home. Sat in front of my computer. Sat staring at the ceiling. I had bookmarked the occasion to see how one of these meetings go. “The cost of trying to be an active citizen”. 20 minutes passed, and I spent the next 10 debating whether I ought to head back.
The 5 minutes it took to get back to the Confluence Club. On the way, I saw the mythical SUV caravan zoom past. The opposite direction.
People posted up at the entrance of the Club. Their conversation smells of post-conference chatter. I recognize a neighbour coming toward me.
‘You missed it’, he says.
‘How was it?’, I ask.
‘He talked a bit and then he left. He said he had a 100 crores earmarked for this, and 80 crores for that and something else for another thing.’
- My Neighbour
I walked up to the residual crowd in front of the entrance. An acquaintance of mine, a peer, stood amongst the more seasoned folks basking in the meeting’s afterglow.
‘How was it, dude?’
He flashes that smirky smile - the universal indicator that reads “You know how it is”.
‘I heard he stayed for like 20 minutes or something.’
‘Yeah, what else is new? That’s how it is…we gave him our list, he handed it to his deputy and went in for a speech.’
‘Who you gonna vote for?’
‘IDK. But I’ve heard this guy’s got the constituency on lock. The others are some weak ass candidates.’