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I am standing in the ‘queue’

By G. Balasubramanian

As a student in the municipal school, I was lining up with others for the morning assembly.” Hey, stand in the queue” Miss Elizabeth instructed me. “Miss, I am already in the line” I replied. I looked into her eyes. Another male teacher who was standing close by came towards me and slightly changed my position and said, ‘she was telling you to stand in a line.’ “Sir, I am already standing in the queue.” He looked at me once again and walked away. I was just wondering whether I was standing in a line or standing in a queue. I was neither an American nor a British to consider both the words and to make out the appropriacy of the usage. I had no ‘cue’ what the next direction would be, nor could I ‘que’ to someone who would give me a proper answer. No body had taught me the homonyms at that stage of learning. Closely examined, even the last four letters of the word “Queue” are silent and waiting in queue to be spelt!

Well, coming to the formulation of the queue, which is the first lesson that was taught in the nursery class. I never knew it had a whole philosophy behind it that will help me till I breathe my last. “A queue is such a philosophy, principle and law of the life that frames the system and runs it with the beauty including the feeling of happiness as the wanted destination since all systems of this planet are within the queue, out of that means disaster.” said Ehsan Sehgal, the Dutch poet and Journalist.

Queue is indeed a representation of a culture. It shows the ability of the mind to accept an order, a wish to co-exist, a sense of respectability to other beings, the urge to demonstrate one’s own self-esteem and to seek peace through order. It holds you back from your restlessness, anxiety, fear, and sense of aggression. Says George Mikes “An Englishman even if he is alone. Forms an orderly queue of one.” History is abounded with tales, fables and stories which focus on the importance of culturing the mind to take one’s own position in a crowd.

In late fifties of the last century, I recall how I was trained to stand in a queue everyday for some reason or the other. “Hey, go and get the ration”- the call sends me to the cooperative nearby to buy the rice and the sugar. “Hey, you need to fetch the kerosene. I cannot use the stove for cooking.” I rush to the nearby shop selling the kerosene. In both the places, the queue is long and would take at least two hours for those two litres of Kerosene. I fondly recall the incident when I was standing in the fag end of the queue, a gentleman in his thirties walked towards looking at my pathetic face and asked “you seem to be in a hurry. Do you want the ration to be fetched soon? For that you need to give me a quarter.” I agreed with the temptation to save time and handed over to him both my family card along with the money and the bag. As directed, I was waiting at the other gate of the shop to receive it, as the man walked into the store. The wait there was quite long, more than the time I would have fetched the ration. He never turned up. All my queries revealed how foolish I was and how I got cheated! The role of touts in pleasing the restless in the queue is indeed a big game!

Standing in the queue in an employment exchange with gloom and despair on the face for the possibility of a job asking someone “how long would they take to call you for an interview?’ and getting the reply “may be a few years,” you walk away with a sense of self-defeat. Sitting for an interview in the queue to be called in, you look more at the way the competitors are dressed rather than what their competencies they have, is yet another learning from the lessons of a queue. I have always sympathized with those parents who used to go and sleep outside the gates of the school previous night thanks to technology that those queue have disappeared!) to get a printed application form and returning the next morning with a beaming smile as if they have done what Neil Armstrong did and saying “That is one small step for the Man and a giant leap for the mankind!” (Fortunately, Neil had no occasion to stand in a queue on the moon).

Not later in life, one stands in the queue outside an embassy for a visa, in the immigration to walk in and at the gates of the airport someone asking, “is the flight to Mumbai?” He does get the positive reply and stands in the line only to know later that the airways are different.

“Sir, will you please let me go? I am late to the flight. The announcement has already been made.” The man with a huge backpack in anxiety makes a request. “Please do” I let him in. “You can’t jump the line” someone shouts from the tail of the line. “You should have planned your timing.” Another holy advice from people who feel that the entire wisdom is on their shoulders. The art of jumping the queue is known to some select few. They would come with a query, they would smile and make a comment on the system, and slowly find their way along with you and sometimes ahead of you. People who love jumping the queue make it a habit indeed trying to prove themselves extra smart!

And imagine the fate of queue when the doors are opened for a “Thanksgiving Day” mega sale! Or for that matter for “Sale” on any special day! The hell dawns on the members of the queue and panic prevails over wisdom and order!

The study of the queues is indeed a great learning experience and provides scope for a purposeful enterprise! For learners, one can learn economics, psychology, mass management, spatial management, supply-chain management, resource management alongside advocacy, branding and data management.

After a heart attack, one stands in the queue to get a slot for surgery, with dialysis going on for years, one stands in the queue to get a kidney for replacement. “Queue’ becomes respectable when it is more virtual. Fortunately, you don’t have stand in a physical line, but only in a virtual line sitting at home, till you are called upon!

While attending a funeral, I remember a colleague remarked “Great guy! He is gone. We are all in the queue.” He looks at the face as if he is the reincarnation of Plato. I make no comments though I wanted to tell him “Please get into the queue quickly and I will go to the tail end.”