If there is one thing that brings out the worst in me in a public place, it is someone cutting or jumping a queue in front of me. There is something that bubbles up and comes to the surface when I notice someone trying to push their way ahead with no regard for the fact that other people are standing in line and waiting for their turn.
This is not a once-in-a-while occurrence, but a daily in-your-face reality. Given the population of our country, there are usually a sizeable number of people in most public places. And the times when it is not a free-for-all with everyone pushing their way through, there is a queue to bring some semblance of order, equality and justice into the madness -- in the metro, at a grocery store, at the bank, at the post office, at Starbucks, and so on. And just as often as there is a queue, there is someone who ignores an already existing queue and surges ahead.
There is some underlying tension, especially in Delhi, that fights against this orderly system. Novelist Rana Dasgupta puts it well when he describes the Delhi mentality in his book "Capital":
“Delhi is a place where people generally assume more, say, than in Bangalore or Mumbai that the world is programmed to deny them everything, and that making a proper life will therefore require constant hustle – and manipulation of the rules.”
The fight to get ahead, to push past others, to gain an edge by not losing time standing behind others, is a microcosm of a culture that seeks to manipulate the rules to get ahead.
My response to this queue-cutting ranges from passive-aggressive to direct confrontation. My passive-aggressive response involves glaring at the person and muttering under my breath, hoping they decipher my facial expression and murmurs and quickly run behind and join the line. This hardly ever works!
Or I elbow and edge my way past them hoping they get the point. This works sometimes, but results in them not cutting in before me but cutting in right behind me, still not joining the proper queue.
The direct confrontation mostly works, but my words are laced with icy sarcasm -- “Excuse me, but if you didn’t notice, there is a queue here” -- and sometimes even raised voices. During demonetisation, I stood in a queue twice in the first week and most of the time was spent yelling at people joining the queue randomly or who felt they had every right to join in right at the front because someone they knew had reached the front.
But there was one incident that made me step back and wonder why I have such an aggressive response to this. I was in a busy metro station that had an unusually long line for the security check. In Delhi, the lines for men and women are separate and as I came up to the front after standing in a queue for about 20 minutes, a lady lifted the barrier and began to go ahead of me. I tapped her shoulder and told her to get back into line. She began pointing to something and I refused to listen to her. All I kept saying was, “You need to go and join the queue, we have all been waiting”, and my tone got harsher and harsher. I ignored all pleas and excuses, and just as I was about to go up to the scanner, I turned and looked at her and her eyes were almost tearing up.
As I walked away and got on the train, it didn’t feel like I had taught someone a valuable lesson on the importance of waiting your turn or not cutting a line. It felt like I had just been horribly rude and harsh with someone, who maybe was new to the city, unsure of where to go and what to do in a Delhi metro, who maybe was pointing to someone they were travelling with and was scared of getting lost.
I began to think about why something relatively trivial was such a huge deal for me. At the heart of it, I felt I had done the right thing. I was obeying the rule, I was being good and the people who didn’t follow the rule were not as good as me and not as well mannered. I felt somehow superior...and then I realised I was just like a Pharisee, feeling good about my goodness and neglecting kindness, gentleness and love.
This has made me think through the many times I justify my behaviour because I feel I am doing the right thing while I gloss over the sin and pride in my own heart. The many times that I am a whitewashed tomb.
This probably won’t result in my allowing people to come join the queue in front of me, but the realisation has challenged me on the way I respond to this aspect of my culture and many other aspects.
My city doesn’t need more people who are cold, harsh and rude, even if they are right. It does need more kind and gentle people, who act to change things, but in a way that reflects a heart that is being renewed in the image of the Creator -- who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. It needs more people who are willing to bear the costs of kindness in the face of a harsh and broken world and culture, because we have One who bore it all and who gives us the strength to respond as He did.
“I want to draw attention to something else – something often ignored in the clamour for better and clearer rules of Christian behaviour: that we should be positively kind to one another…The quest for justice all too easily degenerates into the demand for my rights or our rights. The command to kindness asks that we spend our time looking not at ourselves and our needs, our rights, our wrongs-that-need-righting, but at everyone else and their needs, pressures, pains, and joys. Kindness is the primary way of growing up as a human being, of establishing and maintaining the richest and deepest relationships.” -- N T Wright