The long arm of ego

When the New Year began, I resolved to make no fresh resolutions, since I knew I could not keep them.

That is the only resolution I can be sure of keeping. But I too have ideals: How to be a truly tolerant and sympathetic human being; how to avoid becoming a crusty old man grousing constantly. Still, the impulse of trying to correct others who revel in misdeeds and false promises prevents me from being as tolerant as I wish to be. I find fault with liars, cheats and bunglers, excusing my own lapses by the win-win strategy of the Blame Game, with its first rule: “It is not my fault.” Rare are the days when I have no mishaps of water and power cuts, computer dis-connectivity, and wrong phone numbers. Many are the civic deficits which daily rob us of the joy of living, our glimpses of the sky, trees in their floral glory and calligraphic branches, the delight of a toddler in the park shuffling up the slide.

This New Year began well for me, with my bank open, and a complimentary copy of the calendar rolled up ready for me; only two red-number dates in January, apart from Sundays. A queue was forming outside the first counter. A lady was already seated facing the assistant updating passbooks on a computer that was working. I stood behind two persons for my turn. A young man bustled in. He was wearing a shirt and pants issued by some firm. He seemed disinclined to wait behind me. He moved away and came back with some papers and stood at the other side of the lady on the chair. He seemed a decent type, but I suspected he would muscle in from an unsuspected angle.

Suddenly his long arm shot across the seated lady and he thrust his hand through the small window of the grill, addressing the assistant directly. We loathe the queue-jumpers, and bemoan the degeneration of civic sense which lets them get away with the long-arm tactics. My angry disgust overtook my caution in avoiding a scene. I had to voice a protest. I assumed a tone of remonstrance, an elder reaching out to a younger relative, and said: “I understand your hurry, sir, but please see, we are also keen to finish our work. I request you to resolve this New Year never to jump a queue.” Much to my surprise, he took my admonition in good part and withdrew his ‘long arm of ego’, while a titter of relief ran round the counter. I wanted to thank him for his unusual courtesy, but he sidled away, probably finding other routes to get prompt attention.

Admission to the theatre, college, primary school, train reservation, even to get into the right compartment or to disembark at the right station: everywhere you get variations on the theme of the long-armed ego. Only in one respect do we seem to let others have priority over us: that is, in orderly governance and civic responsibility, a feeling of common benefit, a national ego, not a personal one.

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