On a sweltering Delhi afternoon, my grandmother and I entered the lavish United coffee house to both escape the heat and also enjoy some chai at the charming establishment. Run by staff that seems as old as the place itself, we ordered a salad and some sandwiches while still leaving room for the Mughlai kebabs awaiting at dinner time.

The United Coffee House Photo by Neha Viswanathan ©

Seated to our right, I noticed a solitary, old man, probably in his 70s, having this afternoon cuppa. He seemed like it was his daily ritual, tea and people watching. He glanced at us, gave a smile and stirred up a conversation I’d anticipated from a man like him at a place like that.

As I listened and nodded along as he spoke of how this is a part of his routine and people his age must find ways to keep busy plus a slight update on his family and children, he said something unexpected.

He complimented me for bringing my grandma out for lunch and asked where I lived. Without making an effort to hide it as I always do, part out of boredom, I replied I lived in the MP flats. On inquiring who my grandfather is, it turned out he knew of the man and latched on his own story to explain how he knew him.

Digressing, a Member of the Parliament, my grandfather is a famous man but I never quite felt that as I grew up his granddaughter and not an outside spectator. However, I always wondered, what must power feel like? Is it a perception or a tangible thing? Is it money that buys you power like many claim or is it your personality and the recognition that comes along? I expected a grandiose answer from the universe, instead, I found mine through the most unexpected source — an old gentleman drinking chai at a tea house.

Slight adulation for spending time with my grandparents, silent gratitude for talking to him respectfully combined with an interest in my background created the perfect combination. This is political power — praise for who you are because of your actions, respect for your demeanor and personality and awe for the roster of things you’ve done. This combination is what my family calls, a vote.

I felt the greed only grow on from there. I don’t know if it’s the adulation, or the art of manipulation or the sheer joy of turning one into two and then maybe a million, something about the experience awakened the social servant/politician in me.

Don’t get me wrong, there is love for mankind that one feels to want to be someone who makes decisions for the greater good (my very optimistic view of a politician). But then there is love that mankind can give you in return. This barter system triggers the yearning. The greater the audience, larger the yearning. And in numbers, lies power. Power, built on the dangerous foundation of people’s opinion.