The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 13, 2003
Lead Article

Mind your queues!
Iqbal Judge

The ability to stand in a queue is a test of discipline and patience
The ability to stand in a queue is a test of discipline and patience

ALL of us have been taught to do it, right from play school to high school, yet standing in a queue is a habit we seem to ‘unlearn’ the minute we leave the school gates.

This quaintly spelt word implies order, discipline, patience and an ability to wait for your turn, which may or may not come. In today’s world, when we are recklessly hurtling along a torrent of chaos, standing in a queue becomes the acid test of everyday endurance. The aggressive ‘achievers’ ridicule it as a sign of timidity and meek submission; for some, being able to get ‘out of turn’ favours is an indicator of their powerful status. The disciplined ‘queue-er’ is more an aberration than the norm nowadays.

Making people stop and stand in line is perhaps a strategy devised by the Universal Energies to slow us down and freeze us in our tracks, forcing us to relinquish our attempts to control our world; we are made to just s-t-a-n-d and b-r-e-a-t-h-e, even reflect a little. Often, the myth of civility explodes in our faces as we try to jostle and jump the queue, always wanting to be the first...

Queues come in various hues; each has a distinctive character of its own, depending on what it is for, and where it is. If it is at a cinema hall, the excitement is palpable. There is a bevy of vivacious young girls, chattering nineteen to the dozen, oblivious(?) of the interested onlookers. In contrast, there are the somewhat jaded housewives, seeking respite from household drudgery, exchanging notes on how they managed to ‘get away’. The women’s queue is generally shorter, so the didis (you daren’t say bahenji!) and aunties are approached by the menfolk to buy a ticket or two for them too.

The men’s queue invariably has a large number of ‘pushers’ who derive peculiar pleasure out of shoving and jostling each other. Their ‘glueing up’ is not to push the others out, but forward, accompanied by raucous cries.


Religious festivals create their own brand of queues... of devotees lining up to pay obeisance, to get darshan or receive prasad. Piety and service notwithstanding, there are the devout who simply cannot stand and wait, so they surge ahead, only to be admonished sternly: ‘Guru ghar aaye ho, shanti rakho....dhakke kyon marde ho?’

Long and tortuous are the queues at the electricity and telephone bill counters. The misery of those people is compounded by the thought of having to part with their hard-earned money. There is much grumbling here about corruption, ‘sarkari’ red-tapism and inefficiency. Arguments often erupt whenever somebody tries to sidle up and sneakily ‘jump’ the queue: ‘Assi vi apne bacche te kam-kaaj chhad ke aaye haan!’ The oppressive, stifling heat of summer raises tempers and blood pressure a few notches higher.

Winters are somewhat more bearable. One can spot the assiduous knitters measuring time in finger-widths knitted, while others munch at the minutes with groundnuts. Though reading the newspapers is quite common, once one saw a gentleman absorbedly playing the flute, lost in the world of his muse, the airs flowing serenely and melodiously around him.

The distressing queues are those of the long-suffering, poverty/calamity stricken creatures, their harrowed, care-worn eyes and outstretched hands grimly tugging at our plenitude. The thought of having to line up for that meagre ration, those drops of water, turns the stomach in shock waves of sympathy for these poor little Olivers, who dare not even ask for more...

The well-heeled have to queue too... at traffic lights. See their harassed, petulant faces in the long lines of airconditioned cars, helmeted men on their mean machines and spunky women on Sunnys and Kinetics deftly weaving their way through the maze of vehicles on the roads. Witness here the frowns and fretful glances at watches, the impatient blaring of horns, the volcanic eruptions of ‘road rage’, expletives, fisticuffs and sometimes the horrifying mowing down of hapless pedestrians.

In this feverish, diabolic race to be the first, the patient, law-abiding citizen more often than not finds that he is more slow than steady; somehow it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe that he will ultimately win, for the smart-alecky queue-jumpers are already gloating at the finish line, looking mockingly down at them. The only solace is the little glow of satisfaction at having done the right thing — minded his Q(ueue)s...