The folks haven’t subscribed to a physical newspaper in over a decade. But prior to that, they instilled in me an insatiable love for print. I was eight or nine years old when one evening the father returned home from work with a mission in mind. He got me a grey spiral bound notebook and a new pencil. He said that day onwards, I was to read the front page of the newspaper every single day and copy a paragraph of my favorite story of the day. Perhaps, the one I understood the most.
It was a two-fold objective: to get me to read a newspaper every day and improve my cursive writing skills, both of which I am extremely grateful to him for. It was a quite a bother. The newspaper was so dull. I hated being pinned down for an hour each day to form a legible paragraph. I pretended to misplace the notebook. The sharpener went missing. I was in need for a new eraser and so on.
I don’t remember a specific tipping point but I soon began to love the newspaper and the task at hand. Gradually, dinner table conversations were peppered with all that I had read and what the stories meant in the larger context. I also began frequenting the pages of a dictionary with greater ease.
One evening I remember telling the father that I wanted to grow up and write speeches for politicians. He was not amused.
Over the years, I had neatly relegated all these vignettes and more in some corner of my memory. Our conversations turned to other more pressing matters of the day. Politics became a dirty word. And discussing current affairs had gotten kind of depressing.
But this summer I missed it all so much. Being far away from home, the cacophony of a 24/7 media and the constant hum of the idiot box. On May 16, when the BJP crossed the 272 mark all on its own, the memory of these conversations suddenly came tumbling out. I remember continually cross-checking the figures with the folks and friends on WhatsApp. I told my mother that evening that I didn’t want to talk to her and that she should either put the phone on speaker or hand it to my father so I could get the latest updates.
And then Papa and I spoke. In, perhaps, what was our longest conversation in a few weeks. Just like the old times. Going over the final figures, evaluating the significance of these numbers, marveling at our memories and sense of judgment. We compared the mandates that India had given the Congress over the last few years. We rejoiced the rejection of a coalition government. We had become mini-psephologists. I remarked deliriously, “A majority government after more than a decade!” He interjected, “After more than two decades!” (I will never be as good as him in Maths!)
The next morning I woke up to numerous messages on WhatsApp, comprising photographs and trivia about Narendra Modi, all selected by the father from the morning’s newspaper. And I was overwhelmed with the memory of an old grey spiral bound notebook.