At the end of the day on which Mumbai got its collective finger inked, I was filming a selfie outside the gates of a school near the vegetable market in Byculla in Mumbai South. It was less narcissistic than it sounds – I was finishing off a day of intense live blogging.
It was going pretty smoothly, until I noticed the watchful glare of a police officer, who ambled over, and stood in front of me, his arms folded. I rushed through the remaining sentences, trying not to lapse into awkward gibberish as I did so, and put my phone in my pocket.
“What are you doing?” asked the young officer, gesturing at my pocket.
“I’m just…” I hesitated, “…filming.” I quickly added, “I’m a journalist covering the elections.” The policeman’s brow was still furrowed as he hit me with a follow-up.
“Are you here on a visa?” he asked. “Which one?”
We had a little back and forth like this until I realised it was inquisitiveness rather than inquisition. It turned out that he had been working nearly non-stop for 48 hours.
“So what do you think of democracy here?” he asked. I told him how much I was struck by the level of engagement, especially coming from Britain where voter turnout is generally far lower.
“People here are very proud,” he said. “Everybody votes. Why don’t they in Britain?”
I shrugged. “Maybe it’s because people think all the parties are the same?” I suggested. “There’s not that much difference between them.” My new friend thought for while, then came up with the answer.
“It’s probably because we have a real democracy and you have the Queen,” he said, pointedly. “We can choose for ourselves.”
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