My friend Nitin (known to all as "Bondo") got it organized. He made peculiar caps out of discarded computer punch cards (go ask your grandparents what those are), hastily slapped together some placards, insisted we wear the most unmatched clothes we could find, coached us in some catchy (we thought) slogans -- and we were ready. And boy, we hit the road running: a straggly bunch, perhaps 40, wending our hoarse-voiced way through the streets of BITS Pilani, where I struggled through college.
My election campaign procession. Certainly we had more fun than the other processions did.
Reality bit, as it always does, at the ballot box: I collected a grand total of 17 -- yes, seventeen, a number I will remember till the day I die -- votes. I mean, think of this: not even half my mates who marched for me voted for me.
Then again, what did I expect? I still have somewhere my major election speech in teenaged longhand, and I'm still astonished that I gave it that day with a straight face. "My fellow BITSians," I roared into the mike, "lend me your ears!" -- and then I listed my election promises. Among which were helipads in every hostel ("for students who want to reach home soon"), synchronizing the faces of the clock on the famous Pilani tower ("so we'll know the correct time from wherever we are"), and inviting only fourth-rate colleges to the annual cultural festival, Oasis ("so BITS can win every event").
Yes, in 1979 I ran for President of the BITS Students' Union. Humayun K and Deepak S, both good pals of mine, were the two major candidates. Humayun won a close victory, a thousand-and-something votes to a thousand-and-something-less.
And I got 17.
Clearly, my fellow BITSians hadn't lent me their ears long enough to truly appreciate my helipad promise. And the clock faces -- well, look for yourself if you get to Pilani. And of course, at the next Oasis BITS did not win every event. Serves my fellow BITSians right.
Still, there remain delicious memories.
One, the pair of freshers my pals and I met a week after the elections. "Whom did you vote for?" we asked.
"Oh, some guy called D'Souza", they said. No sign that they recognized me as the same guy called D'Souza.
Two, the meeting I got summoned to inside the hallowed gates of Meera Bhavan, the girls' hostel. The girls present had, it appeared, just one concern that they badgered me about: the condition of their showers. They wanted to know what I would do about them as candidate and if I won. I did quietly consider adding a slogan to my campaign to the effect of "Meera Bhavan ke har ek shower/nahin chalega, nahin chalega" (weak attempt to rhyme "shower" with "chalega" included) but better sense prevailed. A pity, if you ask me.
Third, I ran into Humayun K at a class reunion in Pilani in 2007. "You remember," I asked him on a late night stroll, "that I ran for President too?"
He stopped and looked at me with the twinkle in his eye I always liked him for. "Of course I remember," he said. "I voted for you."
So I now know the identities of two of those 17: Humayun and me. It's my fond hope that sometime before I die, the other 15 will reveal themselves. Maybe some of them will be women. Clean women, who have had showers.