Some routines are alien to the Indian-way-of-doing-things. One could list quite a few but as i sat in my bank precincts this morning awaiting my token-turn, the one that sprang immediately to mind was the ‘queuing-habit’. It is extremely difficult, if not downright challenging for us to wait for our turn. The operative word here being ‘waiting’; and considering the fact that most of us believe in the concept of infinite time granted by our cycle of birth and re-birth, it does seem strange that we can’t summon the patience for a 10 to 15 minutes wait! When obliged by some authority to queue up with poles and tape (think super-market chains, airport-security counters etc) we do get into line. But the league of the voluntarily-lets-form-a-line is just not for us! And even in those places, where the majority are supposedly from the more ‘educated-and-so-more-courteous’ sections of society, we are a fidgety lot, constantly on the lookout for some way to jump the queue! (Like how sitting there even i was toying with using the ‘don’t-you-have-a-separate-counter-for-women?’ line!!!). We try and play the sympathy card ‘just recovering from an illness so can’t stand for long’; we try to impress upon others that we are getting late for ‘some-extremely-important-event’ and they would be responsible in case we missed the deadline; even before leaving for a pilgrimage we look for appropriate ‘contacts’ who can help us skip long queues to get a close and personal sighting of the deity; reliable ‘touts’ are recommended to get your papers through for procuring a driving license. The amusing part is that when someone furtively acts smart and tries to cut the line, we do not take kindly to it. The pusher-in will immediately be admonished with a righteous “There is a queue here, you know!”…whether you do so or not others are expected to join in and play the queue game nicely! That is why i’m quite stymied by the politeness of people abroad…standing correctly in line they notice and frown upon those who barge in, but so often i have found them too polite to say anything. (Although i’m told sometimes they may not be too polite to take a photo or a video of the miscreant and plaster it on YouTube or Facebook. So beware don’t take advantage of that politeness or you’ll end up a scofflaw on the social media!)
Those of us who have had the good fortune of seeing how the system works abroad invariably come away highly appreciative of the invention of queuing as well as a society with public consensus on queuing. After all, making people wait on a first-come first-served basis, is one of the simplest, most reliable and fair systems to organise a crowd to get to the same objective. So why don’t we subscribe to it? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we live in a highly populated, competitive, and hierarchal society. We are obsessed with power and social status, and are therefore, highly sensitive to “who stands where in the pecking order.” Even the poorest don’t really fancy egalitarianism as a concept for everyone wants some form of ‘entitlement’, everyone has aspirations to move up the social ladder whenever, wherever and however.
Here as in many other areas digital-streamlining has come to our rescue. In the absence of a voluntarily-queueing culture, administrative authorities have moved in and taken control. So at many places from passport to driving license issuing centres, banks, airlines, mobile phone customer care centres to visa offices, everyone has introduced the single-line-queue operated by modern technology, complete with “Proceed to Counter 7” instructions. And that’s why when i saw my token number flashing to inform me that my turn had come, i came away suitably enthused…there is hope for us yet!!