This is being banged out from a seat near the emergency door in the economy class of a Mumbai-Delhi flight. The flight is full, the queues at Mumbai airport long and slow-moving.
And once again I find myself wondering if I am the only person in the world who takes queues so seriously or so personally.
What is it about us Indians that makes us recoil at the very concept of queues and their formation? Have those death-heralding words aap qatar me hain’ so damaged our psyche that there is not a queue that we encounter and can abide by?
Can Sudhir Kakkar explain why? Will Pavan Verma write a chapter about the middle-class’s deep distrust of lining up to wait our turn in a single column of order? What does Gurcharan Das have to say about it and why?
To be fair, today’s queue incidents were not as disturbing as the customary affronts.
A well dressed, middle-aged man with expensive accessories had hovered meaningfully near the portal of the departures lounge even as a long queue was snaking its way towards the door, giving off every indication that he was going to make a quick dash through it given a smidgen of a chance. One stern stare and a reprimanding headshake from me had taken care of any criminal intent on his part.
After a respectable few minutes had elapsed to signal that he had only lost his way and not his gentility, he took his place at the back of the lengthy column of ordinary folks patiently waiting their turn. But the look on his face clearly said “Damn. I don’t belong here!”
No such compulsions had spurred the next gaggle of queue-loathers, though, at the lineup for the collection of ticket printouts. Here people were not so much resisting the queue as much as subverting it altogether. And no well-dressed gents to embarrass into Jesuit school discipline here. This was a gaggle of unwashed harried commuters, genuinely pissed off with their lives, their travel schedules and the general state of affairs. Their way of dealing with all of it was to gather in a higgledy-piggledy cluster outside the window of the ticket clerk.
Here, different action was called for. Falling in to queue myself and then looking around pointedly at the cluster in the hope that they’d get the message that was required.
This one was not as easy. Because, whereas a few feet were reluctantly dragged and a few halfhearted attempts made to form a line, crafty rebels in the crowd had resorted to that old Indian trick of “I’m here but also there”.
You know the scam I’m referring to. It’s something of a shape-shifting illusionist’s modus operandi: “If I pretend to be a bit daft, a bit confused, and lunge in and out of the queue formation, there might be a chance that I slip ahead of the person behind myself by the trick of general subterfuge.”
This, for someone like me who regards her station in the queue inviolable and sacrosanct, is unacceptable. “Excuse me. There’s a queue here,” is what works best stated in a firm and confident voice. Coming from a woman, it generally is abided by.
How disconcerting then, how everlastingly damning, that after pissing off everyone, making them toe the line much against their better judgment and natural inclinations, to find that after all I’m in the wrong queue myself.
And to see that when I’m slinking away the line disintegrates and the old cluster blooms again, like our national flower.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer firstname.lastname@example.org