A spooky night that left us shaking
The author recounts his night at a polling booth of Guwahati and explains the ramshackle conditions in which polling officers often have to discharge their duties.
It seemed like a mega carnival all around Maniram Dewan Trade Center (MDTC) complex. Heads of human beings were seen all over with each one of us a having a backpack or trolley. Mr Bharadwaj, Panditji, Rejaul and I assembled at the Trade Centre at 8 am sharp on 22nd April to carry out the parliamentary election duty, which was held on 23rd April, 2019. This was deliberated over phone by all of us the day before so that we could all reach well on time. Everyone looked back and forth for their respective companions to form the teams as per the order of appointment issued by the Election Commission.
On assembling, we rushed inside the complex without wasting a second to collect our voting machines along with the connected documents and all other necessary items from the counter marked as per the polling stations. The things were kept systematically in stalls, for which no one had to face any trouble locating their materials.
We verified our items in possession as per the checklist provided and thereafter had our buffet lunch in the jumbo makeshift kitchen assembled there. Subsequently, we had to hunt for our allotted bus, while moving with a heavy load of luggage. After a substantial stretch of cumbersome walking under the burning sun, we found our bus and boarded for the polling station (PS). The bus started rolling out only after all the teams on the same route boarded and by that time it was already 3 pm.
The address of our polling booth was Hengerabari Khadi Board office, left wing. Although we saw an old faint signboard of the office on our way, we thought that couldn’t be an office by the looks of it. It seemed like a timeworn abandoned haunted house that stood in-between a big open damp field with shrubs all over.
Thus, the bus was directed to move farther, thinking that there might be another office for administering our poll. Therefore, the vehicle was heading in search of our office. It was known from a passer-by that we had left the office a mile back. That struck us at once, so we all equivocally sounded an “Oh no!” We didn’t take much time to confirm that the office we declined to admit was ours, indeed happened to be our polling booth.
Eventually, the vehicle had to make a u-turn. What else could have been done at that eleventh hour?
The four of us were surprised to see its interiors, which could well resemble only with a haunted house. It was even worse than we had predicted from the outside. The ceiling of the house was seen tattered all over, the doors and windows were half open due to the rusted hinges, the floor of the house was shabby and uneven, there were enormous small and big depressions on the surface of the floor, most of the house was heaped with wood and wooden beehives, strings of dirt were hanging from the dilapidated roof all over. It was more of an untidy store than an office. Anyway, we had to accept it as it was.
Gradually, the sheet of darkness came down stealing the remaining light from the room. Only then, we all came to know that there was no bulb in the room to keep us and the process illuminated. Keeping our belongings under the custody of our security personnel, we went for some refreshment outside the gate. Mr Rejaul left us for Namaz into a nearby mosque from there.
While dining, one of the boys from the small eatery informed us that the house is not at all suitable for a stay at night. We asked him curiously why he said so and he replied that the house where we were to stay the night was known for outsiders committing suicide there, as it is in a lonesome place. He even went a step further and said that a few days back, there was an incident of suicide on the branch of the tree, which is on the side of that office. After listening to these things, everything seemed more creepy and uncanny, more than we had gauged before entering those premises. Had he not told this unsavory story, we would not have thought much about it.
The three of us were returning to the room with wobbly minds. As we were walking by the aforementioned tree, our steps were unstable and shaky through the moist and grassy tiny track. I dared to walk in front, followed by two of my colleagues who caught my arm due to their growing fear. No sooner had we crossed the tree, both of my colleagues sprinted towards the room, but they suddenly came out of the room at the same speed, saying “Dada, no light inside.”
Reaching the room, we made a temporary provision for lighting it and looked for an arrangement to rest for a while. But what! We were baffled to see the intrusion of cockroaches and rats running to and fro, as soon as we switched on the lantern. The horrible clamour of mosquitoes was in addition to that - a bonus. The situation became intensely fear-provoking. Somehow, we managed to make a makeshift bed by joining the benches and tables available there. Mr Bhardwaj caught hold of me and requested to sleep by my side. He was too scared due to Mr Rejaul, who was telling some fear mongering stories from the past.
Every minute felt like an hour for us that night as if the morning had rescheduled its time to appear late. Almost with no sleep, we got up at 4 am, though it was too early to wish good morning. Still, the outside was roofed with intense darkness, except some thin and tired rays that were wandering here and there, outsourced from across the street.
Infinite chirping of crickets and on-off petite lights of fireflies made the site precisely spooky. What to do, I decided to go to the lavatory tearing the dark apart to offload my ongoing pressure. By the time I returned, two of them were waiting for me to accompany them, so that they could complete their morning ablution on time and to start the voting process as per the schedule. We will always remember that horrifying night which leaves us shaking even today.