As Bengal votes, it evokes memories of other elections of other sorts in what was once Calcutta

As polling continues apace in Bengal, the national media are abuzz with headlines about the clash of the two big Ms – Modiji and Mamatadi – with the confrontation centred on Kurukshetra Kolkata. Bengal, and the city that was once Calcutta, have long been leading torchbearers of India’s vibrant and volatile democracy.

As a young lad growing up in Calcutta I bore second-hand witness, not being of voting age myself, to many electoral encounters, and the unexpected upsets they often produced. Though passionately political, they did not always have anything to do with political parties in the conventional sense of the term.

In the early 1960s, Calcutta could justifiably boast having more social clubs than any city in the world, with the exception of London. There was the famed 300 Club, so named because it restricted its membership to that exclusive number. There was the Armenian Club, the Swiss Club, the Grail Club, celebrated for its ballroom dances for which the dress requirement was:  Formal (no shorts), and dozens more.

Membership of a club was a social cachet, and being elected to be a President, or other member of a Managing Committee, was an even greater honour.  The annual elections to these posts were as zealously contested as an Assembly or Parliamentary seat.

There were many other groupings of like-minded people which, unlike the regular establishments, had no fixed address but whose protocols of behaviour were no less strict.

One such entity was the Dodos’ Club, a confederation of junior executives, or ‘boxwallahs’, who got together periodically for largely liquid dinners.

One of the rules of association was that a Dodo should never date the lady friend of another Dodo.  When a member unknowingly transgressed this taboo, a special poll was organised to decide his fate by secret ballot.

Voters were given slips on which they had to write ‘Exonerated’ or ‘Expelled’. When the votes were counted, the Expelleds came out one vote ahead, and the Dodo became an ex-Dodo.

But there was a twist to the tale. A Dodo later confessed that he’d opted for ‘Expelled’ only because he couldn’t spell ‘Exonerated’.

This derailment of democracy because of bad spelling, could well have been the inspiration behind machines called EVMs – Eliminate Verbal Mistakes.



This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.


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