“Kindly wait, you are in a queue”, says the polite disembodied voice on the telephone whenever one tries to call someone in India and the line happens to be busy. Then one has three options: A) Curse a bit and wait in line; B) Curse some more, disconnect and call later; C) Curse, disconnect, hope the other person has noticed the ‘missed call’ and wait for them to call back.
Unfortunately, however, at the never-decreasing queues at the banks and ATMs in India these days, one does not have the luxury of option B and C. One is forced to stick to option A and stay put in the queue. And that’s what I did when I needed to exchange cash to get myself to the airport and back to Abu Dhabi, a few weeks ago; in fact just the morning after the great Demon… thingy was announced! Okay Okay! It’s de-mon-eti-sa-tion….Whew. What a mouthful!! Almost as long and as complex as the queues it’s been generating! Anyway I stood in line at the bank, without a whimper, a whine or a whisper of a complaint like the patriotic Indian that I am, for what seemed like days and weeks; and after eventually reaching somewhere near the counter, I got to know that I was in the wrong line. Apparently, that was the queue to deposit money, and if I needed to exchange my old notes then I had to stand in the adjacent line; which had by then snaked out of the bank, onto the road and into the neighbouring building! Well. I think I’m justified if I did a little bit of cursing at this point. And before one or two of my critical readers wonder aloud why I hadn’t asked around before standing in line, well, I did ask but was mis informed, so there!!! Anyway the long and short of it was that the five people in front of me (who had mis informed me) had to get out and rejoin the other queue as well! AND ….now I was ahead of them. Some comfort!!
It seems to me that we Indians spend half our lives standing in queues-for this, or that, or the other, depending on whatever ingenious scheme the Government of the day comes up with. And the other half…? Well we spend that getting the required documents ready before we join the main queue. So first of all we stand in line at the shop to get photocopies of various important papers. Then we go and join the line to get them signed by a gazetted officer, his wife and his dog(if need be) Then we go stand in line for our pan card. Then we queue up to get a token for an appointment to get our Aadhar card(or Unique Identification Card). At the appointed day and time we queue up once again to get our bio-metric verification for the said aadhar card. Then we’re told we need to stand in yet another queue to get our ration card updated. And so on and so forth….!
After much observation and consideration I have come to the conclusion that standing in a queue is an art. Some folks are good at it and some aren’t. The ones who aren’t, simply sail through life clueless about the queue system and obviously never seem to notice a queue anywhere, however long it may be. They just appear out of nowhere and elbow themselves in; and expect the rest of us to fall in behind them! And they are shocked when they’re instructed to join the line from the end.
Some others seem to have honed the art perfectly. In the line at the billing counter of a super market, there’ll be this guy fiddling with his mobile and his ear phones, while shuffling forward ever so slowly. And suddenly you realise he’s just a dummy, buying time before the actual shopper who’s in there shopping somewhere, suddenly joins in just as he reaches the counter. Well…..Of all the devious minds!! And then there’s this person who can’t seem to just stand in line and move forward sedately like the rest. No. Apparently he hasn’t finished his shopping yet. He keeps dashing out of the line to get something or other and dashes back.And each time he returns he looks searchingly at each one of us trying to place who was in front of him or behind him in the line.Gives one a creepy feeling, as if one is in an identification line-up at the neighbouring police station.
Now, the husband and I work on a different level when it comes to tackling a queue. The husband, otherwise a calm and patient shopper, is a changed person when it’s time for the billing process.When he sees the people queuing up at the different counters, he’s super-charged and dashes excitedly about trying to find the shortest line. He eyes the shopping trolleys in front, mentally calculating the time it might take to bill the the items in each. Then, depending on the results of his furious mental math., we finally select a line and stand in it.But, alas, fate…. has other ideas! The line we are in seems to have the most annoying customers, or so it seems to us.
One customer has a problem with his credit card and it takes forever to set it right. The next one has a couple of items without tags and there’s a price check to be done; and invariably each item will be from a different floor altogether. And eventually when its our turn, the machine will have run out of paper and the clerk, bless her, will be all thumbs trying to insert a fresh one. She hollers out to an assistant who in turn summons the Supervisor, and all the while the husband will be fidgeting about, clicking and clucking impatiently, watching the lines at the other counters move rapidly on.
So the next time around he comes prepared with a foolproof game plan. The idea is we both stand in different lines and …….. you might have guessed the rest of the scenario.So there I am in one line with the trolley and he’s in the line three counters away. As our respective lines move forward slowly towards the moment of truth, both of us communicate through winks and nods and other equally eloquent facial gestures. Any more of this and I won’t be surprised if we’re hauled away by security for questioning, on grounds of ‘suspicious behaviour in a public place!’ Finally, depending on whoever reaches the counter first, either he rushes up waving his wallet, or I rush over pushing my trolley trying to dodge around approximately fifty annoyed people in between. When we are finally out in the wide open spaces and fresh air, we look back pityingly at the rest of the people still in the queues. And we are understandably triumphant; until the next time at least!!
In the meanwhile, getting back to the grand financial spring-cleaning going on in India, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the people of my country to just sally forth each evening at around 8 pm or thereabouts, and get into any random queue they come across. The Government you see, is hinting darkly that it has a few more tricks up its sleeves and one doesn’t want to be caught unawares this time around right! So when the good Govt makes its next dramatic announcement to its “beloved country men”, the said “beloved country men” can simply announce back, “Kindly go ahead. I am already in a queue!!”