Lessons in patience

Queues have been an integral part of my growing up. My first memory of queues was when we had to be up very early, sometimes as early as 4 am, to line up our tins for the much needed kerosene, to keep the kitchen fires burning. There would be a mad scramble and lively scuffles before we emerged triumphant with our quota of 5 litres that would keep us going for a while.

This served as a good training ground for filling our colourful pots and buckets with water from the tanker that came by at a specific time on a designated day. This called for a lot of organisation, planning and delegation, enlisting every member of family for duty.

By predicting where exactly the much-in-demand driver of the tanker would park on a particular day, a relay team would be in place to fill every possible storage container in the house within the short period. At other times it would be at the ration shops, queuing up to get our quota of sugar along with the maid’s generous offer to avail her quota of sugar in exchange for our quota of rice. This was a bonanza that would save us some precious rupees in our monthly budgets especially during festival time.

If these were ‘necessity’ queues, there were other ‘luxury’ queues. Friday releases of movies pumped us up with the logistics of acquiring our prime seats for first day first shows. For high profile cricket matches, tickets are sold out even before counters open. Sponsors, patrons, corporate honchos and block bookings deprive the common man of his time in the sun.

The legendary queues of 48 hours plus, at places of worship are something else. The degree of dedication, waiting in these queues must be directly proportionate to the divine blessings, even though one may get but a moment’s glimpse of the deity, after the long wait.

The modern day version substitutes this with virtual tokens for virtual darshans or even ‘outsourced darshans’. Waiting to reserve tickets at railway counters was a summer ritual, almost every family went through. Those aspiring to go to distant lands to pursue their dreams, have to first be sleep deprived and wait in queues at unearthly hours hoping to convince the man at the counter that they deserved the visas.

With progress being made, queues are almost becoming a thing of the past, or so I thought. This was until I went to attend a wedding reception recently. Clad in all our finery, we stood in what looked like a 4 lane serpentine queue with other families, impatient children in tow, to greet the bride and groom. Here too, there are influential people who get a direct entry owing to their high connections.

Then there are the smooth-talkers who will smile, wave and weave their way ahead without so much as a guilty glance at the hapless ‘waiters’. After this, you wait plate in hand to be served by indifferent waiters and just as you are masking your irritation there arrives the videographer turning on the spotlight to capture culinary attacks.

I have learnt many a lesson by waiting in the queue. Lessons in patience and resilience, of survival and strength; of greed and insensitivity, experiential learning that is perhaps lost to the next generation. They are the browsers and surfers not the waiters and watchers.

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