lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, February 02, 2007

They also serve...

I checked the lines at each counter and chose one that seemed to be moving the fastest. I had already spent half an hour at the bank, and wasn't going to stand in a line any longer than I had to.

State Bank of India, my branch, is in shambles these days. They'd changed the interior and the counters get crowded if more than four people queue up. Lines snake all anyhow and rows and arguments erupt over which line leads to which counter.

Their machines for updating passbooks are mostly out of order, with the one working machine seeing the longest lines. And on days all the machines are kaput, there is pandemonium with customers protesting loudly.

They had changed their system some weeks ago, all accounts have new numbers now, and elderly customers and pensioners are going Librarian-poo over it.

I'd neglected to get my passbooks updated for a while, and I wanted to get that chore done today. I was told that entries of transactions prior to the fifteenth of December would be updated at a counter that still had the old system. (The last couple of times I tried to do it, the printer was out of order.) Today, the manager called a young man over to do it, and the lad wrote the entries. Beautiful handwriting and all that, but still. A bank with a zillion customers and no working printers for weeks on end; the mind boggled.

I'd already spent fifteen minutes waiting for the manager; another fifteen watching the lad fill in the entries, and now a queue. The day can't get worse, I decided.

It did.

There was a tap on my waist. I turned. A wizened old lady, bent almost double, was sitting in one of the new chairs that added to the crush in the new interior. She said that she was ahead of me in the queue, sitting until her turn came. I nodded.

I opened my book and tried to read. "Excuse me," said a voice. A young woman, in very trendy clothes and heels that made me vertiginous just to look at, asked me "Is this the line for updation?" I swallowed a snigger and said that that seemed to be the case.

It must be Murphy's Law, but the line seemed to have slowed down since I joined it. There was a huge argument going on at the counter, about some missing entries.

There was another tap, on my shoulder this time. I turned round. There was another woman, clutching a huge handbag and several shopping bags. "I am behind you," she said. I nodded.

I moved with the line, patiently waiting my turn. Some minutes later there was an argument behind me; the woman, who said she was after me, was arguing with the person who was actually standing behind me. She was saying that she was there before him. She called upon me as a witness. I told you I was behind you, she said. I went to talk to the accountant, and this person has taken my place, she said.

"You are after me if you are actually standing in the line, not if you leave it to do something else." I said as icily as I could manage. "But I told you I am behind you." she spluttered. "So? You weren't there, and this gentleman took the place," I said.

As there were some six others behind that gentleman by then, the argument ranged free and wide. I shrugged. I'd be long out of there before they'd resolve it, none of my business, then.

This happens everywhere we have to wait in line, I notice. I find this habit of booking a place in a queue and wandering off to do something else rather unfair. That old lady who was sitting and waiting her turn was different. I didn't mind that.

If they gave tokens or numbers for each counter and if there were enough chairs for everybody to sit, it would be a different thing. I'd like to wait in comfort, too. But when everybody has to stand and wait, you can't reserve your place in line and vanish, coming back when it is your turn.

A more inconsiderate behaviour is reserving seats in airport lounges. The last time I saw such rudeness was when we flew out of Vizag. We'd called to make sure the flight was on time. We were told that it was. After we checked our baggage in, we found that the flight hadn't taken off from Raipur. There was no telling when it would arrive. There were passengers milling around and the visitors' gallery was crowded. The Air Deccan flight to Madras was cancelled, and the hapless passengers were getting their booking changed to Indian airlines. The noise level was deafening.

Amidst all this chaos, there was this man, who calmly used a chain and padlock secure his suitcase to the seat and wandered off, to have a cup of coffee, perhaps. There were elderly people, there were handicapped people in wheelchairs, there were young mothers with babies, and this man 'booked' the seat. The gall of it astounded me.

I tried to remonstrate with him. He said he intended to come back, as if that made things better, or his inconsiderate behaviour acceptable.

My sister knew what to do, though. She walked into the airport manager's office and reported unattended baggage lying in the lounge. She said since airport security is a serious issue, and the public is expected to report any suspicious incidents, she was bringing it to his notice.

Some minutes later, there were a lot of security men visible, and the visitors' gallery was cleared. We didn't have the pleasure of actually seeing the man get his just deserts, but reading The Hindu's report a couple of days later rather chuffed me.



Anonymous Rajesh said...

Change banks, Lali. Civil aviation gets it act together because you sisters were miffed? Wonderful.

Lovely post about gossip, BTW. You didn't hear this from me of course.

8:17 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

Like I said, Lali, you're sister IS the just deserts for people of debatable parentage such as these. You should see his ilk on trains, though. It's an entirely different logic when other people have reserved seats and they don't. Oh my. How the rancour against selfish snobs with much-too-rich fathers bubbles and froths.

But reserving places in queus is necessary sometimes, believe you me. When, for example, to pay your annual fees you have to wait in line from 10 in the morning to three in the afternoon. We often scoot for fifty odd minutes to do important classes. Sigh. Such is life.

But NOT off for a cup of coffee and a nice stroll beside the lake, no. With you there.

9:28 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

When the average citizen treats queues with the respect they deserve- ah, that will be the day!
I have yet to understand how a simple queue becomes diagonal or lateral, leading to much confusion and dispute! And how someone of my size is often rendered invisible by virtue of having actually reached the desired counter!

11:10 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rajesh- SBI is not bad, not as such. They are just going through shaking down and settling with a new system.

Rimi- College queues might be different, Princess, but monopolising a seat in a busy airport to the extent of 'reserving' it is blatant bad manners. LOL at the debatable parentage. Learning to temper our tongue, are we?

Dipali- You know, it's always their tea-break when I reach the counter, too. Especially in railway booking centres, in the days before e-tickets.

4:20 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

Updation? Is that a real word? The mind boggles, Lali. I wonder if your sister's reporting unattended baggage had any real connection to the Hindu report, though.

5:38 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- It is not a real word, but I have heard updatation, updatising and more, too.

And yeah, you are right, but it is nice to think so, no?

8:23 am  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

I'll never get tired of saying this, Missus. Em ... but you have the ability to make rants like these a pleasure to read ...

Its about time Indian air travellers gain some civic sense ...

9:47 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- Too right, buddy. Where do they think they get off, claiming seats in a public space, I ask you. And the whole business of tapping someone on the shoulder and saying 'I am behind you' only to vanish till you are about to reach the counter... the mind boggles at the blithe assumption. Like you even care what is happening in the queue behind you; it is only altercations in the line before you that you have an opinion of, after all. :-)

10:00 pm  
Blogger Shirsha said...

ooh, i love that airport seat reserving/grabbing bit that your sis did! I think this will be my learning for the day!

11:20 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Shirsha- Thanks. If all of us did take the time to protest, these boors might, just might learn manners in public behaviour. Perhaps not, but one can dream!

1:37 pm  
Anonymous Tivi said...

Tokens only work if they are automated. I spent 3 1/2 hours in Air India office where they actually pay a guy to turn the numbers. If he takes a break it is up to the poor paying customers to figure out the order. It was very entertaining but only if you are there to take a break in an air conditioned room & not to actually conduct business.

5:45 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Tivi-...they actually pay a guy to turn the numbers. Really? The mind boggles. You are right that it is entertaining only if you are uninvolved.

1:52 pm  

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