Sachin was brought back to the present by the sound of chalk squeaking on the board. Vamsi Sir was the only teacher in the school who refused to use an e-board. Apparently, he preferred giving everyone chalk dust allergies and triggering their asthma. He had written “Democracy vs Dictatorship” in large capital letters.

“As the school elections are imminent, I thought we might begin the chapter on forms of government. Today we will debate the pros and cons of a democracy and dictatorship.”

Sachin snorted.

“Something to say, Ramanathan?” Vamsi Sir asked pleasantly.

“How can there be pros to a dictatorship and cons to democracy, sir?” asked Sachin.

“Let’s find out, shall we? Students from this section who have filed their nomination papers successfully – not the rejects – please come to the front of the class.”

Sachin watched as Mini, Roohan Gupta, Michelle Feagan and Daksh Kumar got up from their desks. Daksh was a noob. He’d only joined the school last year. How had his nomination papers gotten through? Shouldn’t there be an election by-law which said students had to have attended the school for more than a hot minute? Sachin had devoted eight years of his life to this school. Was it all for nothing?

Vamsi made the students stand in a row in front of the class. “Hmm. Here are the students who believe they are fit to lead and represent you in the year to come. Truly a case of the blind leading the blind, if you ask me.”

Vamsi Sir stood behind the lineup. It looked like a scene out of a horror movie, the poor unknowing victims about to have the life force sucked out of them by a predatory ghoul.

Sachin watched as their teacher introduced each student to the class.

“Roohan Gupta: swimmer and average football player. More brawn than brains.

“Meenakshi Madhavan: excellent student, earnest but tries too hard.

“Michelle Feagan: spends more time checking her reflection in the mirror than she does checking her homework.

“Daksh Kumar: a new student who brings a breath of fresh air with him. Shows great promise.”

Vamsi was right about Roohan, but Mini didn’t try too hard. And of course, Michelle kept checking her reflection in the mirror – she was a goddess. Sachin had barely spoken to Daksh, but he wasn’t convinced about all the fresh air he was apparently letting into the school.

The class was silent. Sachin looked around. Most of his friends looked uncomfortable, trying to gauge if Vamsi Sir was joking. But Sachin could tell that the teacher was absolutely serious. The students standing in the lineup looked like they wanted the earth to open up and swallow them whole. Except Daksh.

The awkwardness of the moment was broken briefly as a loud trumpeting sound was heard from outside. Every year, as soon as the nomination papers had been filed and before the final list of candidates was announced, high school students would roam the corridors in their free periods hyping the upcoming elections. Students would play music and cartwheel down the corridors, shouting out things like “The Dance of Democracy is almost here!” and “To vote or not to vote? The answer is obvious!” Students loved it, but the teachers, for obvious reasons, did not.

A group of eleventh graders playing instruments walked by jauntily. One of them caught sight of Vamsi Sir and came to an abrupt halt. He nudged his friends. The group that had been merry a moment ago looked as though their lives were flashing before their eyes. Vamsi Sir stared at them silently. They stammered how sorry they were and ran down the corridor.

Vamsi Sir returned his focus to the lineup.

“So students, please tell your peers what you think the pros and cons of a democracy are. Feagan, perhaps you might care to go first before your thoughts evaporate?”

“Democracy takes into consideration the needs and wants of the people, sir,” Michelle ventured.

“Ah yes, needs and wants. Manikandan, what are your needs and wants?”

Manikandan was a giant boy on the basketball team who was almost always eating something. “Umm. Lunch, sir?”

The class laughed. “Indeed. And Gupta, what about when the people don’t know what they want, what happens then?”

“But sir, everyone knows what they want,” said Roohan confidently.

“What if everyone wants something different, what then?” asked Vamsi.

“You find a compromise or go with the majority, sir.”

“And what if the majority think girls should not go to school or wear certain clothes?”

“No one thinks that, sir,” said Roohan, still confident. “And if they do, they are wrong.”

“Madhavan, as a democratically elected leader, how would you give a fair hearing to the majority when they don’t believe in the rights of women and gender equality? Don’t you think a dictatorship which upholds the rights of women would be better?”

“But it’s not that easy, sir!” said Mini.

“Oh! I’m so sorry. Did you hope that democracy would be easy, Madhavan? Do forgive me.”

“Dictatorships by definition are about oppression, so how would one support women’s rights? Plus, I think that it’s easy to frame rhetorical questions like this, but the reality is more nuanced and complex,” said Mini.

A shadow passed across their history teacher’s face.

“Rhetorical? Complex? Nuanced? So many big words, Madhavan, no doubt deployed to show off in front of your classmates. I wonder if your election platform is so nuanced. Let’s find out. In two words, tell your classmates what you will do if elected.”

Sachin watched as Mini’s throat muscles constricted. He could practically see the wheels in her brain turning furiously as she tried to compress some thousand-word-long political manifesto she’d written into two words.

“We don’t have all day, Madhavan,” Vamsi said.

When Mini opened her mouth, she said the last thing on earth Sachin thought she would say.

“Taco Tuesdays.”

He had never felt prouder.

Excerpted with permission from How to Win an Election: A Most Unreliable Guide, Menaka Raman, illustrated by Pia Alizé Hazarika, Duckbill.