Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Queue-jumper

I had gone to my village of Kidangannoor on holiday (where my parents [now deceased] lived in retirement) and went to the Chengannur railway station to buy tickets for my journey back. It was summer vacation season and tickets for the return journey to Bombay were scarce. So I had to leave home early hoping to get ahead in the queue to book tickets. After reaching the station, I had stood in a long queue for about an hour and was at the head of the queue when a youth appeared from nowhere, stood beside me and began pushing towards the ticket vendor. When I objected he started complaining loudly to the people present that I was trying to push him and that I was (you won't believe this!) the queue breaker!

Imagine! A Hindi saying goes, “Ulta Chor Kotwal ko dathe,” a case of the thief scolding the policeman.

Me, a queue jumper? I am not sympathetic to such boors and fought back and got my position at the head of the queue and bought a ticket. Then I saw something that upset me further. The man was buying a ticket after me! I said with all the animus I could muster, “People, people, my dear kind and law-abiding saars (they say “saar” instead of “sir” in Kerala), can’t you see, that man is a queue jumper and he is buying a ticket.”

“He said the same of you, remember,” one man said.

“But I am saying he pushed ahead of me, he is a reactionary, an usurper, a hooligan, an anti-social element, a..., a..., a..., blot on civilised society,” I blabbered on.

They stared blankly at me, you know, the way you would look at a dimwit.

By this time the man who had barged in front of me had bought his ticket and was coming menacingly towards me.

“Enthado thante problem? What is your problem? Podo ividunnu, haaaaahn, kanichu tharam! Go away from here, or I will show you.”

“Are you threatening me after jumping the queue, in front of all these people?”

“What people? Ask them. Did I jump the queue, people?”

“No, no, no, no....”

I couldn’t believe my auditory senses, or my visual senses, for that matter.

“Pinne... then?” the queue-jumper was moving menacingly towards me.

“Oh, dear and esteemed and highly-regarded saars, can’t you see he is turning the public opinion against me, against propriety, against the laws of civilised society, against every tenet that you, decent, mundu wearing, respectable people believe in?”

“Hey, who are you to give big lectures, haaaahn,” this is a member of the public whose rights, decency and civility I was trying to protect.

“I am no one. In fact, I don’t even live here. But if this man barges in, buys a ticket while you have been standing in queue over an hour today, mark my words, he will be raping your mothers and sisters, stealing from the government’s public coffers, thumbing a nose at law and order next.”

“Heey manushya, watch your words,” with this the queue-jumper came towards me, folding and tying his mundu in a tight double fold over his waist (the Malayali’s preparation for a fight). I could see his striped underpants and the loose-hanging string he used to tie it to his waist. It was a threatening gesture, alright; the sort used by superstars Mohanlal and Mammooty to scare the shit out of villains in Malayalam movies.

Hell, no! I am no coward when it comes to a fight. I have well-toned and exercised biceps and triceps that I flex everyday for around thirty minutes, even on holidays. I also know a few Karate tricks thanks to a lightning course in Karate I took when I was working with a former employer. The teacher didn’t think much of my moves then, but if I could scare him with a few grunts and shouts, maybe, just maybe, he will hightail it.

So I got into Shotokan Kata position, or some such, I don’t remember, and shouted really menacingly at him, “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh.”

“What are you doing man; can’t you see the man has grey hair? At least respect his age,” this is from an esteemed member of the public, whose honour I was getting ready to protect.

I stopped in Karate-mid-stance and gaped at him open mouthed.

He untied and dropped his mundu and said, “Since this kind and nice saar says so, I am leaving you, or you know I would have broken that knee of yours.” (In Kerala they always aim at the knees, so that a man will limp for the rest of his life.)

I stare at him, at the people whose rights and privileges I was trying so hard to champion, and then walk away. At least my knees have been saved the bother, and I got my tickets!