Right on queue

When there was a feeling that the Aadhaar card might be mandatory, there was lukewarm response from the public. But now, when the government has clarified that it is not compulsory, and the Supreme Court is also of the view that it has no legislative backing, men and women and clueless kids are queuing up in droves to enroll for the card. This only makes it clear that there is always good market for things that people can basically do without. Exhibit A, of course, has to be: Salman Khan films.

Just a couple of days ago, I had gone to a school near my residence where the Aadhaar card enrolment camp was on, where I found myself staring at a huge queue ahead of me. When I say a queue, I actually don’t mean a queue. In fact, in India, no queue for anything is single. A queue may look orderly to start with, but soon, like random tributaries of a river that branch out in perplexing profusion, people will start lining themselves in a carousel of chaotic arc. It is not uncommon for a single straight-line queue in India to be flowing in eight different directions at the same time. Conversely, the only place where you can hope to find an orderly line-up in India is at the dog shows.

Anyway, I went and positioned myself at what I thought was the fag end of the line, which turned out to be the middle, because the guys who constituted the rest of the supposed line were perched on nearby cement bench. This is another Indian specialty: You don’t have to stand in the line. You just hang around in the vicinity, while air molecules mark space for you in the line.

Much before the world invented the mobile check-in or checking in through internet at airports, Indians had pioneered a practical way to tide over the difficulties of every-day queues. This is how it works: You turn up, stand in the line for a couple of seconds, tell the next guy behind you that you will be back, and then vanish uttering the magical words ‘konjam paathukanga’ (please watch). You can even go home and sleep for an hour or two, but when you come back the man (who was) behind you, probably standing patiently in blazing sunshine all along, has to give you the same position ahead of him in the line. This is some kind of common code that society devises for itself — like the one that in a loo of 3 piss-pots, two guys walking in will, without any prodding, straightway occupy only the two piss-pots on the extreme and never the middle one, and the third guy walking in will either wait or, if he is in a tearing hurry, will relieve himself outside.

Another thing that regularly happens in queues in these parts is: You turn up in a place and find a line of hundreds of impatient and irritated people. Don’t worry. All queues are made of such people only. But you are in a hurry. At first glance it seems there is no way that you can jump this queue. If you tried anything of that sort, there will be riots all over you.  Looks like the choice before you is between: 1) Join the line at the end 2) Go away and come back another day when there is hopefully less crowd. But if you are smart — here I use smart to mean shameless —- you can create a third option, which is to spot a relative or a friend or even a passing acquaintance or somebody who you might have known in the previous birth. Heck, it could even be someone whom you have never come across. It actually doesn’t matter.

But what matters is, as I said, you must stay unashamed. And here’s what you do: You spot a person. You causally sidle up to him. You smile at him middlingly, and then start talking to him in a casual manner. If he is an individual known to you, he will also indulge you in conversation. If he is an unknown person, he will still indulge you in conversation. Because conversing is our national pastime. (Remember this is a country where it is not uncommon to find parents talking matrimony for their son or daughter with families they had met just five minutes before in a train journey or bus trip). The point is you have to keep the conversation going, soon enough the rest of the people in the line would think both of you to be thick friends, which is the clincher for you to seamlessly stand along with him in the line and move ahead.

I suspect it is written in the preamble of the Constitution: We, the people of India, do hereby solemnly guarantee that you, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, sex and the IPL team you support, upon seeing a friend or relative in a queue, however long it may be, can seamlessly join him in whichever position he is in the said queue. The rest of the stupid fools standing behind in the queue have no right to complain.

That day, luckily there were no such incidents in the queue, and I eventually got myself enrolled for the Aadhaar card, which I was told will take three months time to reach me because plenty of people are already in the waiting line.

And that makes me to wonder whether I should now try and pick a conversation with Nandan Nilekani.