ON THE SECOND SUNDAY THIS MAY, while the sun was burning every living thing unfortunate enough to be outdoors in Delhi’s 40 degree summer, a short, thickset, government schoolteacher, armed with an umbrella and a thick register, knocked at my door. She is one of the 2.5 million enumerators on duty, carrying out one of the biggest administrative exercises in the world, the Indian Census. India is among very few countries that have conducted an unbroken chain of regular decennial censuses. The first modern census in India started in 1871, but the practice goes back as far as the Mauryan Empire (321-185 BCE).
“Kundi kholo. Census keliye aaye hain (Open the door.
I’ve come about the census).” The voice had a teacher’s authority.