What Did Voting for the First Time Do for Millennials?

It may seem absurd to connect a national election to personal growth, but 2014 taught me many lessons. What felt like a victory of spirit that night, has ever since felt like a self-inflicted defeat. Voting for the very first time taught me how to come to terms with the impossibility of instantaneous turnarounds.

On May 6 in 2014, I took a bus from Delhi’s ISBT in the sweltering heat of the summer night. It was midweek, and I was tired to the bone from having travelled to office and back. On any other day I would have wished to just fall into bed. But that day was a bit different, because I was also desperate and anxious. Life had been dragging for a while and had taken the shape of an irresolvable question. It is incredible how, things you struggle with on the inside, can often be helped by change in something around you. It feels like mimicry in retrospect, but the country seemed at an ebb of anger and frustration that I felt for multiple reasons on a personal level. If I couldn’t get out, I thought, I’d help the country get out of it. That night, I took a bus home to vote for the first time. I wanted to change something; feel, at least for a brief moment, capable of doing so. That night, as it turned out over the years since, began to change something in me.

The 2014 election wasn’t the first time I had had the opportunity to cast a vote. I was eligible in 2009 as well, and incredibly enough, back then I was back home in Shimla, 100 metres away from the polling booth. Call it lethargy or indifference, but I didn’t. I was, if you like, too comfortable to even be political back then. At least that is how I explain it to myself. It took an exit from this circle of sympathy and ease to realise that for things to change, one has to change them. But to want to change anything at all, one must suffer the indignity of structures and systems. Waiting is only one of the conditions, not the only condition.

Back in 2014, I had already spent some three years in IT, working in a profession that had sort of happened to me more than it had happened because of me. Before I could even analyse or contemplate what was happening, I was coaxed into believing that the day one received an appointment letter was the day one grew up. A few months later I was in Hyderabad, a tie lightly clutching my throat, and dirt clinging to my shoes, a “techie”. Three cities later, I was in Delhi, tired, a little broken, having arrived at a place that I couldn’t tell if it was ever the destination. So had, perhaps, the country.

The 2014 election was unique in a variety of ways. It was preceded by Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement that mobilised and urged people to reconsider the value of what they thought they deserved. Many of us who sat in unsatisfying jobs, or jumped a pothole on our way home, felt like we could demand better. Democracy, overnight, presented itself in a format other than that of being the hapless voter. I remember colleagues sharing invites to protests and walks, on the office mail servers, people giving up weekends to stand in the sun and carry banners. Corruption under the second UPA government had worn the country’s patience thin. A number of scams like Commonwealth and 2G, had perpetuated the sense that public money could be taken for granted, and this would have to be accepted as the norm. It felt familiar to my life at work, where bureaucratic corporate babble buried any possibility for radical change or demand. Anything, if it could change, would have to be in you.

The 2014 election, to me, felt like a coming together of many things. I was told that working a regular job and accommodating to its many routines, implied adulthood, but I struggled with its many stipulations. It had come to a point, where rescuing the country, as ludicrous as pompous as that may sound, or returning its call for help felt like helping yourself. What I did not realise or foresee in that moment when I booked a ticket overnight and rushed home to vote was that all change must be internal. India cannot be fixed without Indians fixing themselves. Barely months into BJP rule, crime against minorities began to rise, a number of constitutional parameters came under threat, and most disturbingly, closet communal fare began being served at dinner table conversations in homes across the country. What I believed I had done for the right, to get ourselves out of a rut, had taken a turn for the worse. I did not grow up because of my several jobs, or on that night when I ran away to change something around me. I have, I believe, grown up in the years since, having alighted that wave of mutinous righteousness. Not everything done against wrong, I now understand, is naturally right.

It may seem absurd to connect a national election to personal growth, but 2014 taught me many lessons. What felt like an amorous victory of spirit and commitment that night, has ever since felt like a self-inflicted defeat. They say loss and failure teaches you the most. Being let down since 2014 has taught me about coming to terms with the impossibility of instantaneous turnarounds. A country cannot buy a ticket to the lottery like people can. Growing up means to accept the slow dribble of circumstance and condition called life, the fact that to get past it you need not choose what is popular or easy, or believe what sounds most gratifying. Don’t look for the salary, look for work. Choose what is studied and beneficial in the long term. There is joy in gratuitous change, at least in the possibility of it. Because nations, unlike people, can’t depend on luck. The two can, however, grow old together, slow and measured.

Manik Sharma

Manik Sharma writes on Arts and Culture.

This article was originally published on Arre