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[Columns] Queuing Up At An Indian Counter—Lekin ‘Queue’?!


The idea that someone else must perform the same task as you, before you, is unacceptable for us. Numbers in India don’t really help the situation where people flock. The phobia of queues itself ends up in everyone behind you making a visual effort to express their agony to everyone in front. Besides, there’s never enough of people deciding which movie to watch, or inquiring whether the aisle has more leg space or taking away an antisocial number of those finishing forms which you can eye helplessly!

Utter aloud the word “Queue”. Apart from the absence of a flimsy nasal stroke at the end of the utterance, India and Indians are not able to tell this word apart from its local homonym “kyun“. This is an article irked in half measure by Bryson’s observation of the English over-etiquette of “queuing up”, rendered inevitable by the Indian habit of taking efforts to produce the very opposite of that behaviour in their daily lives. As an overture to this article, I would like the reader to recall one of the numerous instances they might have chanced upon, if not initiated, where we neglect the whole act of queuing with a distinctly obstinate displeasure. The idea that someone else must perform the same task as you, before you, is the initiator of such physiological rebuke.

Impatience and a general lack of regard for others (also hygiene on occasion) are the factors that come to mind. Numbers in India don’t really help the situation where people flock for a purpose or for the lack of it. And, hygiene in temperate regions would require more than just a morning shower’s worth of ablutions. The age-old courteous and self-effacing gesture “Pehle aap” holds good only when there is someone very old, very beautiful or very bulky contending the door with you. And “Ladies first” is a very subjective function of the speaker’s whims.

An elegant example is a huge group of people waiting to ambush the crowded crevices at the first crack of yawning elevator doors. It being illogical to enter before people vacate the standing thoroughfare, doesn’t cross their minds. This goes only too well with our habitual unapologetic nature, as torsos brush and elbows nudge in the anonymity of ignorance. A slight reservoir of patience would not only streamline this avoidable turbulence, but also introduce elements of modesty and complaisance.

Also significant is the non-acceptance to wait, if in a queue. That can be attributed to the phobia of queues itself perhaps, as everyone behind you makes a visual effort to express their agony to everyone in front. Commonplace uttering of brusque remarks, needless sighing and complaining about the weather for nothing else seems to accept the blame can be observed all the time. Even the queues at an Indian buffet are a snaking and hissing affair, with the most venerated of guests palming an empty platter and lining in front of a single man–operated “Tawa” or “Tandoor”, cursing in hushed undertones every passerby with his plate loaded with goodies from the Indian culinary experience, awaiting their own overindulgence.

Administration in India, in general, is in its entirety, incorrigible. Of a panoramic exhibit of counters and windows where people must line up, only very few or two, whichever less, are open at a given point in time. And contrary to the British counterpart in Bryson’s account, in rush hours, none are. The train of thought as most Indians are faced with a lining up situation is pretty simple. Try to escape it. And that can be accomplished by first finishing off the job yourself, which being a universal survival instinct, makes the entire group pound like hyenas at a sole beleaguered counter, in a cacophony of demanding voices and confusing choices. That is to say, to exacerbate the inefficiency that looms at large, we are never really decided on what we want until we engage in a long conversation with the official behind the counter. There’s never enough of people deciding which movie to watch, or inquiring whether the aisle has more leg space or taking away an antisocial number of those finishing forms which you can eye helplessly.

Also nepotism, like a disregard for traffic rules, is an innate Indian tendency. And who can dare accost the mirth of a friend who has reached the front of a queue? The very same people who shrug off logic every time they rush from one place to another for no apparent reason wield the fallen weapon to explain why they let their kin cut the queue and stand in front of them. Very logical is what they think it comes off as. The person they just saved standing at the end by letting them join in like a wildcard entry of sorts, in their view is standing in front of “them” and not “you”. Fail to see the larger picture always, don’t we?

Perhaps this is our silent protest against the English, who in their colonising caused such agony, that its after-effects still linger years into the timeline, and we intuitively abhor and reject whatever they hold so dear. And for those who crave for a sense of scale, if all of India were to line up, for a divine occasion marked by a precarious alignment of the stars, the queue would wrap around the equator 30 times. Yes, that big. (What the oceans will have to say about people trying to queue above them, is unsure). Maybe not queuing up is indeed good for us?

Now if we hold our idol in them movie stars, then we have a country full of heroes. And to what effect? One where a not-so-humble 1.2 billion-strong population says, “hum jahan khade hote hain, line wahin se shuru hoti hai”. Kudos! With that abundant a number of anchor points, there’s a lot to choose from. Followers, anyone?


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Siddhartha

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