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Saturday, December 22, 2001

Between the big things we cannot do and little things we will not, there is always the danger of doing nothing. Regulating the city traffic or setting up systems for garbage pick-up – all require more planning. But simple things like standing in queue for services? This is one thing that can be easily accomplished.

We harbour some false notions that standing in queue is only for the common man, and not the VIPs. I believe Gregory Peck was once standing in line with a friend, waiting for a table in a crowded New York restaurant. Finally the friend growing impatient suggested to Peck: “Why don’t you tell the head waiter who you are?” Peck shook his head, “If you have to tell them who you are” he said “then you aren’t anybody.” Another famous Indian who didn’t mind standing in line along with others, was JRD Tata. He never took the executive elevator, but waited in line to get onto the regular lift.

Everywhere in the world, passengers of domestic and international airlines board according to row numbers after the boarding of elderly and infants. I do not know why our own carriers cannot follow this sane practice. When the flight departure is announced, passengers scramble to the gate. Even the attendant who is checking refrains from telling them to stand in a line. On one such chaotic occasion I chided the ticket checker for not calling the passengers by row numbers. “Sir” he said, “you should speak to my supervisor”. The supervisor mumbled an incoherent response.

Even where we do stand in line it is rarely a straight line, or worse, we have queues of the wrong kind. A friend in Delhi was recently telling me that at the booth where she picks up milk, there are two queues – not for men and women. But for ‘servants’ and ‘masters’. And we drove out the British for treating us badly!! Did you know man of our elite do not vote because they will have to rub shoulders with the servant class?

In Britain during the war, there was need for able-bodied men on the war front. All of a sudden the importance of the working class men on the battlefield and women on the home front keeping factories and hospitals going was recognized. Britain was never the same again after that.

We all can narrate numerous experiences – of being jostled at cash counters, wedding buffets and bus stops and of being pushed while waiting to bless the newlyweds or by passed at airport counters. An orderly queue is not only a sign of good manners but makes practical good sense. If each person tries to break the queue, everyone suffers. Surprisingly we have orderly lines in movie theatres.

Go to any Western country, and the orderly queues are amazing. In Disneyland, hundreds wait patiently for their turn. Only the disabled in wheelchairs are given precedence. This is one area we do not have to wait for some authorities to regulate us. It is very simple, just requires a little discipline and shedding of pomposity and narcissism. Let not people think they are unimportant or less influential if they stand in line. Remember JRD Tata.

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