At a prominent medical shop the other day, this was the scene at the cash counter where customers paid their bills before collecting their purchases from another counter: A row of people at the counter, with a second row forming behind the first row. Now, how is the poor cashier to decide whom to serve first? From my experience, he just grabs the first bill that he sees. Why, why don’t the customers line up to pay?
I then remembered my father telling me how queues came to Cochin. Queues were unknown in Cochin before World War 2. At railway stations and cinema theaters, there used to be a swarm of people buzzing around the ticket counter. It was survival of the fittest. My father remembers that a servant who was once sent to buy cinema tickets returned with the tickets but lost his shirt in the melee.
During WW2, the railway authorities introduced queuing at ticket counters. The police were present to supervise the operation and put down unruly elements. After the success of this experiment, it was the turn of the Ernakulam Boat Jetty, and then the cinema theaters. We take all this for granted now, but even today, as in the medical shop I visited, our old instincts come to the fore.
These are the thoughts that passed through my mind as I stood at the counter, waiting for my turn. At the counter was an elderly man who was having a tough time counting out the change. When he had finished with a bill and was deciding whom to serve next, a woman suddenly thrust her hand forward. It contained a bill and money. “Here,” she said. “The exact amount.” The cashier did not hesitate; he took the bill from her hand.
And that gave me an idea. I took out my wallet, got the exact amount for my bill out, and when he’d finished with her bill, I stretched out my hand, saying “Here. The exact amount.”
He hesitated, looked at me, smiled, began saying something like “If everyone …” but took the bill alright.
Living in India develops one’s ingenuity.