A balding man in an unflattering flannel jacket pivoted his bony elbow into my ribs while his wife ran over my foot with her wheeled suitcase.
"Jesus," I muttered as I hip-checked her into the metal rail on our left.
We were waiting on line -- or queuing, as it's colonially called here -- for a taxi outside the domestic airport in Delhi upon our return from Bombay. Most everyone in the crushing line was gripping a prepaid taxi voucher, and all seemed to be jostling and shoving for better position in the three-wide and twenty-deep line.
I placed my feet as wide apart as I could comfortably stand and hung my backpack over my right shoulder, and Aliyah's over my left, making it awfully difficult for any Indians to get passed me without shoving me, or my luggage, aside.
A fat man in a sad-looking suit shoved me and my luggage aside, waving his ticket in the air in a way that said, "I'm not just a V.I.P. I'm a V.V.I.P. Get out of my way."
"Hey!" I yelled as he wrestled passed the backpack on my left shoulder. "We're queuing here."
He looked at me as if what I had said was obvious.
"Yes," he said. "I know."
Such is the strange experience of queuing in India. The only really accepted rule appears to be that there are no rules. In any number of settings, I have watched with furious silence as an Indian man walks along the length of a somewhat-orderly line, elbows his way in front of whoever is waiting at the head, and rudely demands to be served.
Sometimes, but not always, I'll call the line jumper out on such behavior.
"Pardon me," I'll say, as if I somehow need this miscreant's pardon. "But we're all queuing here."
The result is basically a coin flip -- half the time, the man, who obviously knew he was bypassing the line, will look at the queue with false realization ("Oooooh, so that's why you're all waiting here.") before nodding in agreement and trudging to the back. The other half of the time, he'll look at me with disdain and continue on as if I'm the one who doesn't understand the rules.
This common attitude among minor reprobates is so commonplace that it's no longer surprising, particularly when all those waiting on line are strangers who will never be called to task for a violation of social courtesy. But what continues to amaze me is when people consistently hop lines in which they know everyone waiting.
This was a common situation at the office of my former employer here in Delhi. Employees were required to check in each morning, and out each evening, by fingerprint scan in front of the security desk on the ground floor (a fairly high-tech embodiment of an antiquated labor practice). There were only two scanners for an office of hundreds of employees, so there was typically a line of two to six people waiting at each scanner, particularly when the clock's hands were close to the company's official start and stop times.
I knew, at least by sight, every person who ever waited in this line. We all worked in the same building six days a week. Everyone knew each other. And still, several employees, both male and female, would often walk straight passed everyone in line and shove their way into the front of the queue.
On my second-to-last day of work, I watched with frustration as a young woman walked around seven people waiting in line and needled her way directly behind the person using the scanner. It was just too much.
"Excuse me," I said, fed up, "but we're queuing here!"
"Yes," the cutter said. "I know."
And everyone else looked at me as if I'd said something rude.