What is in a queue, most Indians ask as they invent innovative ways of queue-jumping, says a new book on the most striking characteristic that literally binds the diverse nation.
“People of every caste, creed, language, state, religion, province and street differ on virtually every other issue, but we all converge on this one ethos: the ethos of queue-jumping,” says V Raghunathan in his book ‘The Good Indian’s Guide To Queue Jumping’, published by HarperCollins.
According to him, Westerners and Indians are as different as chalk and cheese when it comes to queuing with Western queues mostly a “lifeless, boring and linear assortment of people standing somberly as if struck by life’s most extreme tragedy”.
But not so with Indians. “Our average queues are full of verve and vitality, each brain in overdrive, actively evaluating all strategies to jump the queue,” he writes.
“What is more, in our queues we stand really tight, unlike the Westerners, who stand apart as if the next person may be suffering from some unmentionable contagion. That is why our queues, when they exist at all, are a solid, albeit uneven, line of people with all senses on alert, rather than the relaxed and limp lines seen in the West,” he goes on to add.
“In a nation of a billion people, there is no escaping queues. We find ourselves in one every day - whether to board the flight or if we are less fortunate to fetch water from a municipal tap. We no longer wait for years for a Fiat car or a rotary-dial phone but there are still queues that may last days, like those for school admissions. And then, there are the virtual ones at call centres in which there’s no knowing when we will make contact with a human,” the book says.
Raghunathan says that no wonder the disregard for queues has also found its way into the very folklore of the nation via Bollywood when “Amitabh Bachchan growled in his bass voice in Kaalia (1981), ‘Hum jahan khade ho jaate hain, line wahin se shuru hoti hai’, saying in effect I will always jump to the head of the queue: stop me if you dare”.
The objective of his book, he says, is to enhance the wisdom evolved by Indians about queue-jumping.
He also touches on another important aspect related to queues professional queuers.
“The basic idea of paying someone to stand as your proxy in a queue is neither terribly original nor new. Many of us have, at one time or the other, paid someone to line up on our behalf at a railway reservation counter or at the American embassy.
“But these efforts can at best be described as jugaad an ad hoc way to address the queuing problem. They never evolved into a full-time entrepreneurial venture, leave alone a full-fledged corporate business, even if not listed on the stock exchange as is the case in some places,” the book says.
Raghunathan terms queue-jumping in India as a troubling social phenomenon, made alarmingly ugly by the total refusal of service providers, regulators and society alike to apply their minds.
“It is never on our list of foremost concerns to address. But queue-jumping is only a symptom of our larger social apathy, corrupted mindset, the wide gap between the powerful and the common folk, our innate indifference to fairness ad concern for others, and the complete denial that we have a problem in the first place.
“It is a problem symptomatic of deeper ones so that it appears queue-jumping is going to be around for a very long time,” he says.
He feels a weak regulatory system encourages queue-jumping in all formats, which in turn makes the enforcement of measures to curb queue-jumping increasingly more difficult.
“This clearly implies that first and foremost we need to recognise that queue-jumping, especially in a country where queues are an important social reality, is a problem worthy of being tackled,” Raghunathan writes.