The virtues of queue

The word queue, written mostly in the short form ‘Q’, is perhaps the most important word in human civilisation. The origin of this word is to be found in the Latin word Cauda which means tail. And as they say ‘Like the tail wagging the dog,’ the Q governs or at least is expected to govern the behaviour of people in public places. The railway station, the bus stand, RTO office, passport office, hospital wards — wherever you go you see people standing in Q to get their work done. Even in some religious places devotees have to stand in long Qs in order to have a ‘darshan’ of the deity.

The Q is necessary because in most places the demand for services is more than the supply. Instead of crowding and storming the service counters people have learnt to stand in a Q and get their work done in a systematic way. The principle of first come first served has replaced the old method of might is right.

Though people have invented the Q as a very useful and respectable method of dealing with shortages of supply many have learnt to jump the Q also. There are many ways in which people try to break the Q and somehow get their job done ahead of others. Some do it in a brazen way. This often gives rise to quarrels and you need the help of the police or security personnel to re-establish the Q.

An interesting feature of Q in Mumbai for the city bus is that people would very patiently stand in the Q till the bus arrived. But once the bus came they would throw civility to the winds and try to get in somehow or the other. Isn’t it a strange thing that people show exemplary patience and self-control for a long time till the counter opens or the bus arrives but forget all manners at the nick of time? What could be the reason for such unreasonable behaviour? One friend suggested a plausible explanation: How can you behave in an unruly way when the counter is yet to open or the bus is yet to come? Wouldn’t it be fighting like Sancho Panza?

Nowadays owing to advent of the computer the problems of the Q might have become less accentuated. It is understood that in many places tokens are issued with the help of computers and the people may go get their work done by making a clever guess about the time required for the Q to move. Walkman and mobiles also help to relieve the boredom of standing in the Q for a long period.

Just as standing in long Qs gives rise to problems due to the Q breaking individuals, there is also scope for people to develop instant friendship in the Q. Usually they would find agreement in complaining about the delay in the opening of the counter or the slow manner in which the counter clerk is handling matters. Once such rapport is built, then you can have a word with the person next to you and go for a smoke or to visit the toilet. Thus the Q also helps in instant bonding between strangers.

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