I distinctly remember the shrill whistles that pierced through the auditorium and threatened to shatter the ear-drums when Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan delivered the dialogue "Hum jahan khade ho jaate hain, line wahin se shuru hoti hain (the queue begins from where I stand)".
It is okay for celebrities to make such declarations; for ordinary mortals like me, the queue does not start from where I stand even if I happen to be the first person to line up before a counter.
Now, consider this incident. A few days ago I had to visit the civic administration's office. There was a big queue in front of the counter, and I dutifully took my position at the tail. At long last my turn arrived, but before I could even mumble my query the window was closed shut. It was lunch time, and the window would remain closed for an hour.
Can anything be more frustrating than this? Anyone knows that to stand in a queue is like participating in a wrestling match. Your are pushed and prodded from behind, your toes are stepped upon, and your stomach is jabbed by the person in front who in his haste to scratch his nose moves his elbows at lightning speed as though there were acres and acres of empty space around him. Then, you have the person behind breathing down your neck, and sometimes even breaking out in a coughing fit without putting a handkerchief to his mouth. To have experienced such a situation for an hour, and, finally, to be told that it is lunch time when you reach the window can be very depressing!
By that time there were only three or four persons, including me, in the queue, and no one thought it reasonable to remain standing at the window for an hour just for nothing. The people dispersed - some went to have a cup of tea, some others went for a smoke, and few others even went back home. I made a beeline for the nearest tea stall.
Upon returning, I sat on a bench and waited patiently for the lunch hour to end. There were many others like me who were sitting on benches which were placed irregularly in the lobby.
Looking at my watch I saw there were still 15 minutes before the window would open. Not relishing the thought of standing at the tail of a queue again, I went and stood at the window. Just a few minutes before the window was to open, the others, who had remained sitting on the benches or strolling around, came up and, then, began an argument.
"Hey, I am the first person in the queue; you move back," one of them told me.
This claim astounded me. How could he be the first person in the queue? At the time when I came up to the window, no one had been standing there.
I pointed this out to him.
"That isn't relevant. I have been here since morning. When the window closed during the lunch hour, I went home for my own lunch," he explained and asserted that it was his right to be at the head of the queue.
As far as I could recall the window had closed on me. Anyway, what had happened was past; this was a new queue and I was definitely the one heading it.
I thought over his ludicrous claim for a while, and told him that I had been to the office yesterday (this was a lie, of course), but just when my turn came, it was closing time. So, in fact, I had been standing in a queue since yesterday and, hence, I had a better claim over his, I told him.
Fortunately, no one else came up claiming to be standing in the queue since the day before yesterday. Just then the window opened and I swiftly thrust my papers to the clerk on the other side. The clerk accepted the papers and began processing. My challenger to the first position therefore had to remain content with the runner-up position.