Kyun Queue


Let’s get one thing clear before I go on with this. I’m in no way, shape or form a racist. I do not discriminate people or even animals on basis of caste, creed, colour, sex, origin, and any other parameters that they differ in. In spite of this, I know well that when I make this statement, at least some of you will label me as one. Also this is quite a satirical take on the topic - so being a bit broad-minded might help. So, with that in mind, here goes :

The average Indian, be it male or female, hates queues. We hate it indiscriminately - be it at bill counters, ATM machines, hospitals, cinemas, sports arenas, getting into and out of flights/trains/buses - you name it, we hate it!

But the reality is, just like everywhere else, we’re forced to queue at times, not by choice, but through necessity. So yes, we’ll definitely queue, but kindly refrain from comparing our animated and ever-evolving queuing system to that traditional serpentine one, that the British seem to have mastered. In India, queueing is a both an art-form as well as a test of survival of the fittest. Before we go ahead, let’s take a look at what we traditionally associate with a queue, made popular by the Western civilisation with their prim and proper social etiquettes and tut-tuts / head shakes, should you jump the queue.
How we normally queue - Image courtesy The Guardian
Look at that - they have respect for one’s private space (and their privates), they are not prying over your shoulder, and in short they’re minding their own business, and even being productive whilst waiting their turn in the queue. Yes, that’s how a queue should be. Maybe in the rest of the world. Not in India my friend - this is how queues (bear in mind that these are just samples) look in India. It’s a multi-dimensional world of pure wrestling ecstasy.
A Collage of sample queues in India - Images from various internet resources

Look at that beautiful amalgamation of diverse people, all converging towards a focal point - the counter. Impressive, isn’t it? Where else in the world, would you get to see so many diverse species in a single place. Maybe at the zoo, but you’d have to pay then. Here you even get a chance to interact with them.

As I mentioned earlier, queueing in India is not the same as queuing elsewhere. The reason - we don’t take our queues seriously at all. For us, queuing is something we are forced to do. We do not do it out of the goodness of our hearts or kindness to a fellow human being; nor do we do it because it is the right thing to do, social-etiquette wise. We merely do it to appease the lathi-charging constable, or sometimes because that’s the only way we can get to the counter. If we had our way, people like me, who believe in the sanctity of the queue, would never reach the front of the queue.

So with that, here’s a "What-to-expect-when-you're-queuing-in-India"(and probably some other similar countries around the world, where might is right)

The first step to tackling any difficult situation, be it an Indian queue, or a charging lunatic, is to understand the dynamics of your situation. With regards to Indian queues, there are three things to be aware of:

Personal Space Encroachment

Regardless of where you are queuing, if you are a man, do not be surprised if you suddenly find the person behind you breathing down your neck or his paunch offering your lower back a lumbar massage.

Now, whilst most of you may think that the reason behind this “hokey-pokey” business is a lack of appreciation of the concept of personal spaces, the actual reason is quite simple. Give us even the smallest space to push in a finger or a nail, we will queue-crash. We simply believe in the the maximum utilisation of resources. So in short, if you are not physically touching the person in front of you in any way, then you’re not considered to be standing in the afore-mentioned queue.

The situation of women queues - Images from various internet resources

Whilst the situation is not entirely this bad for the women, I can’t honestly say it’s much better.

Wandering Attention

Do not ..and I repeat EVER…let your attention wander, even for a fraction of a second whilst in an Indian queue. Let me illustrate this point with an example. Imagine you're queuing for tickets at a train station, and as in normal tourist fashion, you have a backpack on your back. Something floats by and your attention wavers, and you turn sideways to look at it. After you’re done with that momentary lapse, you try to turn back to fit back into the position you were previously. Do not be surprised if you aren’t able to. This is because, the moment you turned sideways, the man behind you has moved forward to close the gap made by your vacating backpack. Tough luck :)

Elbowing is your right (or left - depending on your handedness)

Look at the picture again - Queuing in India is not of the faint-elbowed or the faint-hearted for the matter. If you are unfortunate enough to have to queue in India (trust me, you will have to), then be prepared to use those left-hooks and right-jabs to make sure you’re seen to. The more your hand is in the face of the guy at the counter (or the counter-wala as he is lovingly known), the more likely you are to be picked next.

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, the next is to know thy enemy. Whilst this list is in no way comprehensive, I’ve tried to point out most of kinds of Queue-rs and Queue crashers that you are likely to encounter:

The Fair Maiden:

Yes, I’ve heard the stories too - Women in India are mistreated, molested and what nots. Whilst they may be true, there is something that dear old British colonialism left us with, that we still follow in terms of protocol. Regardless of when they arrive, if in a mixed queue, women always get a bit of priority over men. Although there are more separate queues for women these days, when it comes to mixed queues, the fairer sex is almost given a red-carpet welcome at times, especially when it comes to queues at the cinema and at the supermarket. Having said that, in light of recent events, you probably would not find a lot of women in mixed queues. Also, women do have their share of queue issues.

The Smooth Operator

The Smooth operator is some one who schmoozes his way to the front of the queue. But it’s not just the smooth talking that gets him in place. He is also extremely agile and quick to move in. He often stands/moves beside you in an imaginary queue, sometimes even making the odd small talk with you. He is immune to stern glares and even the periodic curses from the people behind you in the line. He also sometimes pretends to read a paper or a magazine (or their phone) whilst hovering around the middle of the line. But the moment you  are about to take your turn at the counter, he explodes with a series of sorry’s and excuse me’s to take your spot. Of course you continue to complaint along with the rest of the people behind you, but once he has reached the counter, there is no way he’s getting out.

The Obnoxious crasher

The obnoxious crasher is hard to miss. They are usually stocky with a build of a wrestler, with a moustache that is twirled up at the edges. Usually spotting a thick gold or silver bracelet(s) on either of their hands, they are accompanied by similarly goon-ish looking cronies. They’re loud spoken and out right rude, and casually trundle into the room and up to the ticket counter without a care in the world. They have an intimidating aura and most of the law-abiding queue-rs do not tend to utter a word. Most of the VIPs and IPs in India fall into this category, and they get their work done without queues, while the rest of us Ps cower submissively in our queues.

But beware, you may also occasionally come across some “pretend” obnoxious crashers without their goons. If there is no accompanying entourage, feel free to point them to back of the queue.

The Brancher

The Brancher is quite a unique species of queue-crasher, and is usually found where there are virtual un-enforced queues such as when boarding a plane or a cruise liner. The brancher has an extremely simple modus-operandi. Let’s explain with an example:

You’re waiting in the lobby of the Departure gate to be called for boarding. As the First Class and Business Class passengers start to board, you observe the normal scenario of the Economy class passengers starting to queue up. You too decide to queue up. One of the branchers walk up alongside your queue and stop next to the 4th or 5th person in your queue. Suddenly you see more people queuing up behind the first brancher. When this body of queue starts to appear long enough, another brancher suddenly appears and follows the same process on another side successfully creating a human tree, with your line of queue-abiding citizens forming the trunk of the tree, and the branchers, well branching off the middle of the trunk

 The “My friend’s in there”

I’ve been told that this is not just an “Indian approach”, but rather is something that has found enormous success world wide. Most of the time, the success of this approach depends on some level of contact prior with the “friend” joining the queue. This is usually resourceful when you are bound by the number of tickets one person can buy, say for Sports events, movies etc. When the “friend” is a few heads away from the front of the queue, unknown to others in the queue, they exchange a secret signal. Once the “new friend” receives the signal, the “friend” skilfully inducts  the aforementioned “new friend” into the queue exactly at the time of being served.

The Sly Fox

The Sly fox is quite similar to the smooth operator. But they’re not usually up for small talk. Instead they usually observe the queue for sometime, looking for the weaker links. Then they attack. They rush quickly to the front of the queue as if to talk to the “queuing person” (which in this case is you) who is about to take his turn at the counter. They then make eye contact and point to the floor saying that you have dropped something valuable. You see something on the floor, but aren’t able to ascertain if it’s yours. You bend down to pick it up. When you come back up, you notice that the sly fox is currently processing his transaction at the counter. Well played, Sly Fox…well played!

The “I only have 2 items” 

This particular queue crasher is someone who you’d encounter usually at the supermarket. Everyone knows that the express check out line is often the longest. So in spite of only having a few items, you still decide  to queue up at the normal check out counter. As you are about to reach the counter and place your items on the till belt, you’re rudely interrupted by a person who was previously a couple of heads behind you. “Only two items sir….please…” he says forcefully placing his three items on the belt. By the time you shrug and ask him to get back in line, the cashier has already started processing your intruder's items.

Now that I’ve had my "rant" at the wonder that is the Indian queuing system, let’s look at it from the other side. Having spent most of my childhood and adult life abroad, there’s something that I’ve observed. Indians behave absolutely fine when abroad and when there are other cultures around us. So our inability to have a systematic form of queuing is neither because of our "perceived" inability to or unwillingness to follow instructions. When on a foreign soil, surrounded by foreigners as well as Indians, we do not jump queues or blatantly disregard rules. On the other hand, we are probably more sticklers for rules as opposed to Westerners. We only seem to oppose it when we’re predominantly surrounded by our own.

So maybe it inherently comes comes down to our confidence and trust in our fellow countrymen. Too many have set bad examples in the past - enough to make us think that we cannot be expected to follow rules and regulations. It’s not just with queueing, it’s with traffic as well, as any driver can vouch. But then, it kind of leaves us with a no-win situation, doesn’t it? On one hand you want to set a good example and follow the rules to the T. But on the other hand, experience has taught us that, yes, following the rules will get us our result, albeit a lot slowly than we would, say, if we jumped on the “Indian queuing” band wagon. Don’t get me wrong - I’m in no way advocating that jumping queues and cutting corners is the way forward. But when others cannot be trusted to behave properly, what is the incentive for us to do so, apart from being socially correct and well-mannered?

Another thought to ponder over, and possibly the reason for our “tendency” to jump queues is because we live in a huge, densely populated, desperately resource-constrained nation. How many times have you stood in a queue, in spite of others jumping ahead and cutting across, patiently waiting for your turn - and by the time your turn comes up, the item (be it a ticket or anything else) is sold out. If you’ve been brought up in India, this principle is somehow ingrained into you - “if you don’t have what it takes to shove your way to an opportunity, then you don’t deserve it at all”. Of course with education, good parenting and social skills, you walk away politely from all the “queueing circus acts” into one of us - the us here being everyone who willingly waits their turn in a queue without creating much hullabaloo.

But then again, in India, where the substantial part of our large population, see their idols in our “numerous Bollywood heroes with their atrocious self-centred larger-than-life dialogues”, I suppose you can’t really blame them for taking some of the dialogues a bit too seriously. After all, as Superstar Amitabh Bachchan said in his famous movie Kaalia:

Hum jahan khade ho jaate hain, line wahi se shuru hoti hain!

(Which translates as : The line starts from where I stand - hmm, somehow it doesn’t seem that dramatic when translated!) Also for my non-Hindi speakers, the title of the post translates as Why(Kyun) Queue?

This post is merely my take on "our Indian queues" based on research and observation. It need not be yours nor is it necessary that you should agree with it. Nevertheless, I'd like to hear your views. Also, I know I've generalised "us" - So again, apologies for the broad generalisation