Election Diary: Beyond The Euphoria Of Development

Amid the euphoria of development in the country, there are many who question the parameters of the same.

Photo: Divya Tiwari
Conversations on Wheels: Amid the euphoria of ‘development’ in the country, there are voices that question the parameters of development Photo: Divya Tiwari

Ride or Die

“Na mili roti-chaur ta chal jaayi, desh me log-bag ke batiya chaahin khub” (its fine for us to not have roti, people in this country need grand narratives), the woman said to the tuk-tuk driver while he drove us to the other end of the city of Gorakhpur. I entered the vehicle mid-way into their conversation about the much-touted ‘development’ in the state and the ongoing general elections. She told me she works a contractual job in a government office. For almost three years, she had prepared for competitive exams, then resigned herself to her fate. In Uttar Pradesh, preparing for “competition” is a rite of passage. When marrying off their kids, many parents add “well-read” to their “biodatas” as a humble brag!

The conversation in the tuk-tuk continued between the two as I listened intently. The driver went on about how infrastructural developments like roads have made the state better. The irony stared us all in the face as the vehicle navigated dusty and broken stretches in the lanes outside the famous Golghar market. “Haan, haan, road sab accha ho gaya hai” (the roads have become so good), she proclaimed. Uproarious laughter followed...We sat there. The city looked at us and I stared into my phone, searching for ‘‘cognitive dissonance’’.

Cognitive Dissonance

“Idhar aage ek puliya banna chahiye” (we need a small bridge ahead on the road), she said, stepping out of the vehicle. The driver informed me that the railway crossing ahead was very dangerous and had claimed a few lives over the years. We continued talking as I struggled to find directions. He asked (rather informed) me if I was from UP and for a moment, I was left wondering. “I’m from here but I spent most of my life near Delhi,” I said.

He told me all about his family. He was worried about the future of his children, especially his daughter who is a softer person. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was as soft or naive as her father wanted to believe.

He picked up two more riders standing at the edge of the lanes near the newly-settled Surajkund Colony. “Nothing gets fixed here,” said one of them pointing to the road that apparently has remained dug-up for over a week.

The anger in their voices was palpable. “Kekra ke vote diayi iss saal gurdev (who are you planning to vote for this year, wise one?) the tuk-tuk driver asked the passengers. A man in his 50s, with hair gray and a husky voice said, “Kaun faayda ba ho vote dale ke. Kuchu kaam-umm bhayil ha?” (what’s the point of voting? Nothing gets done anyway). He ranted against all political parties, their current leaders and every political development that has taken place in the last two months.

“Paper-o leak ho gayil rahe” (the exam paper got leaked recently), the young boy with the older gentleman expressed his concern. The driver said, “My son has been preparing for competition for two years. When will things get better?” As my destination approached, the driver sounded an end note, “Phir bhi Maharaj, vote ta deve ke padi. Yahi na ek adhikar ba hamni ke” (we should still vote, its the only right we are left with). I realised that people were yet to give up hope though they sound dejected.

Looking for Hope

It is the resilience of the people of this land that they find hope like one finds Waldo. Amid the euphoria of development in the country, I have met many who question the parameters of the same.

My destination was a friend’s place who I had not met in over a decade. “By 2024, there would be flying cars,” I remember telling her back in 2005. The possibilities are endless when one is young. Later in the night, she drove me through the city and I stared at the roads—still cramped and dusty. Now a manager at a bank, she told me all about her life. When the car stopped, she announced, “Pahuch gaye” (we’re here). She pointed at the newly-built sarovar and the boat rides one could take there. The area was well-lit and many people were hanging out around the huge man-made water body. As I continued to take in everything with sheer amazement, she pointed at the Marriott courtyard and said, “Bahut development hua hai picchle kuch saalon mein” (lots of development has happened in the last few years).

Divya Tiwari is a multimedia journalist at Outlook

(This appeared in the print as 'Election Diary')