Skip to content

Lunch queue

So I’m in the queue at the Indian food stall in the canteen during lunchtime when this scenario unfolds. A couple of girls up ahead in the queue are chattering ecstatically, as girls are wont to do when a friend of theirs comes and stands right behind me. There was the usual wave of delightful glee and the torturous over-extending of the word “Hiiiiii” in chorus; I’m referring to the kind that must have convinced the apes to evolve away from humankind.

Then the inevtiable happened. The ladies up ahead made a tiny gesture of come-join-us with a perfectly matched roll of the eyes. People who invite other people behind the queue do so in complete confidence. Complete confidence that if someone’s caught and humiliated, it won’t be them. The response of the invitee, however, varies with queue-cutting skills and experience. Real experts can simply melt away from the back of the queue and smoothly appear in front in a process thats similar to gaseous diffusion and is still being examined by many scientists.

The dame behind me, however, after a hesitant glance left and right (I’ve no idea why, all the queue members were in front) shook her head no, and mouthed in a very low voice, “Log maarenge!” I was impressed. And wondered what other things she learned at her mother’s knee. For about twenty seconds.

So our hitherto courteous lady tells her friends surreptitiously in Hindi to just order an extra plate for her. A tactful gesture, assuming nobody figures out what she’s saying. Unfortunately, while this is Singapore with a dominant Chinese-speaking population, the queue is in front of a North Indian stall. All of this becomes irrelevant, however, as soon as this plan is given swift approval in the committee and the question of whats to be ordered crops up. At which point our heroine taps me on the shoulder, asks me to please keep her place in the queue (in English), and moves right up to the stall for the special preview of the chef’s recommendation. Returning, she helpfully translates terms like “chicken”, and “egg” into Hindi and shouts out her order to the co-conspirators in this subtle deception. An order which subsequently gets changed only twice as the lead implementers move up to the front.

By this time everyone in the queue is either trying to hide their smiles or their scorn, depending on how their pre-lunch class went. We’re Indians, queue-cutting is built into our DNA. It’s not that which worries us. It’s just that this particular damsel was saved from being in distress only because we’re way too civilized to helpfully point out glaring errors in queue etiquette. A concern about a fellow Indian who’s clueless while cutting a queue. A concern which only deepens as her two friends come down the queue with three plates of food, and suddenly, she seems to have an idea. Brightly she makes a double circular gesture with her hands and says, “Why don’t I come with you gals?” and walks away leaving behind some people with a palpable mix of emotions, ranging from homesickness to amusement.

I couldn’t hear the mutters of everyone in the queue, but I did hear someone who had to be a Star Wars fan say in a low voice, “Much to learn, she still has.”