Experience | India | My Life

Part of a Billion

Sunday, 16th May 2010

Last week, a census taker visited us, and for the first time, included us in the National Census of India.

The only previous memory of being included in the census was in the 1981 census, when I was staying with my grandparents in Bangalore for the summer holidays. My grandmother was sitting on the stone step outside the front door, removing adulterants from rice, when the census taker visited. My grandmother being a teacher herself, she got into a conversation with the census taker, who was also a teacher. I was playing nearby, and remember being part of the conversation, though I doubt whether I made any insightful contributions, being all of six years old then.

Sticker on my door signifying we have been censused

I have no memories of the 1991 and 2001 censuses, and I cannot for the life of me recall why.

The census taker who visited us was very professional with the right human touch – she was familiar without being intrusive. She was also super efficient – she had her census routine down pat and went through it without pausing even for a moment. And it was a bit of a complex routine at that. She had these giant printed forms she was filling up. In one, she recorded our names. For a detailed account of our lives, she used a separate printed form. Both these were rather huge and unwieldy – more than A3 sized.

She wrote down our responses in Telugu, and I was quite amazed by how she repeated whatever I said so that she could get the words right in Telugu. She breezed through the questions, and handled even the caste question quite well. She made out I couldn’t speak Telugu and kept to Hindi. Again, I’m not quite the best Hindi speaker in the world, but I could make myself understood. When she came to know that I was Tamil, she said I spoke decent Hindi for a Tamil – I thought she was pulling my leg, but one look at her face showed me she really meant it!

In less than 20 minutes, the interview was over. She made me sign two forms, took my thumbprint on one of them (another first for me!), gave me a receipt, put a sticker on our door, and was gone.

It is a momentous feeling to be part of what is definitely one of the largest census exercises in the world. I am aware I did not do anything special, and participated in something that a billion other people also will. Nevertheless, it moved me enough to write about it.

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  1. I was recently counted amongst the 300-Million, instead of the 1-Billion over there 🙂 (Un)Fortunately, the machines took care of the census here 🙂

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