Getting ahead does not mean getting there first and at the cost of others

Has the Indian rudeness quotient really increased or has my tolerance decreased? The word queue has no meaning in the Indian mind. At Mumbai airport, I was awaiting my turn to place an order for a much-needed cup of coffee. Two older gentlemen sauntered to the counter, yelled their order for “Assam tea.” Thankfully, the shop was out of that brand of caffeine and while they were debating what else to get, I got an extra kick from getting ahead of them!

What cheap thrills have I been reduced to enjoying… After finishing my coffee, I mulled over the fact that air travel has become so common that it does indeed represent somewhat of a cross-section of urban (educated?) India. Indians do queue up for flights in the U.S., but the smell of Indian soil even from Europe has them rushing in like cattle. The first time this happened, I was amazed and asked the staff why didn’t they ask the people to form queues and board in an orderly manner?

The gate agent gave me a tired smile and said: “Ma’am, we’ve tried so many times in the past, but nobody listens to us. Finally, we decided to stop requesting and just throw open the gate, simply ensuring that nobody gets hurt in the melee.”

Back at Mumbai airport, I was carrying my baby and suitcase and stepping onto the bus that ferries people from terminals to planes, when a young man with no baggage rudely brushed past me and got on. Pardon my rudeness, but perhaps his legs refused to support him anymore?

This attitude is ubiquitous — in big malls, small shops, public transport, and even when you walk on the streets, not to mention driving. Here’s another example. This time it is within an apartment complex, which has about 300 houses. It is a small community where people do bump into each other quite often and there is at least face recognition. Sunday morning there is usually a crowd to pick the freshest vegetables from the ones that arrive in the complex and within a few minutes, there is a line at the bill counter.

A lady had her basket near the line and was putting her purchases in it. After she was done, she slid her basket into the line exactly where it was sitting, although the queue had stretched far beyond. When the gentleman who she had cut in front of politely told her to join the queue at the end, she started arguing, stating her basket had been in line already, this was not fair and so on. After a few more exchanges, the lady did agree to move back, but only one place, behind the gentleman!

This is in stark contrast to what one sees in Europe and the U.S. People hold the door open for the next person passing through, wait patiently to board buses and trains, pay bills, shop… Being a mother with an infant or toddler has people being even more courteous; carrying bags, helping you get on/off buses, sometimes even allowing you to move ahead in queues.

I agree that living in the second most populous country in the world is not easy. However, resources have not become so scarce that we have to fight each other for even the littlest things. Getting ahead does not mean getting there first and at the cost of others. Everybody is smart enough to know that an orderly line will get things done more efficiently. Then, why not — lifelong prejudices, what we are taught as children, or just a sense of wrongful entitlement? What will it take for us to show a little more courtesy to our fellow people?

My story does have a silver lining, though. After I got onto the bus losing neither baby nor bag, not one but TWO older gentlemen offered their seats to me.

(The writer is a scientist. Her email is rlsupriya@gmail.com)

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