These are very dark times indeed and The Man from Madras Musings feels like a character out of a Russian or to bring it closer home, a Bengali novel. The atmosphere, as a wordsmith once put it, is so fairy tale that it is Grimm. Imagine a whole world locking itself down, industrial establishments shutting, public entertainments out of the reckoning and the poor and elderly as usual suffering the most. The mind just boggles. MMM certainly has enough stories to tell his grandchildren, as and when they appear of course and provided they are willing to listen and more importantly, believe in his narration. Certainly, those who were not part of the COVID experience will find it hard to think of it as anything but surreal.
What they will find harder to believe is that one virus could get us Indians and Chennai-ites in particular, to conform to queue discipline. It seems improbable but it is true and MMM has seen it with his own eyes. Mind you, they, by which MMM means his eyes, are not what they once were but they can still make out people standing in orderly lines at checking-out counters in shops. And what is more, they are adhering to the concept of space between each other. These shops have drawn lines, or circles, depending on individual taste and patrons are expected to stand on the line or within the circle as the case may be. The space between these geometric drawings are the mandatory six feet. Hard to imagine eh?
Most of us who have been in queues in this our land know that there are really no queues – each person believes he or she is at the head of one and ought to therefore be served first at the counter. In fact, MMM understands that one of the key reasons for Indians being successes in the IT industry (that business which first made Work From Home fashionable) is their ability to think laterally, which in turn comes from their habit of breaking queues. The other habit, when we do form queues is to leave minimum or no space between each other. We are so close knit as a nation that we stick close like brothers. Thus MMM is quite sure that all of you out there have been part of queues where when it is your turn to step to the counter, two or three people behind you will also join and listen to your conversation with whoever it is that is attending to you. Not only will they hear every word but sometimes butt in and offer suggestions or even solutions. They will also relay the gist of your discussion to others down the line. All very friendly no doubt if you like that sort of thing but not nice if you are the kind that likes privacy.
All of this is of course nothing compared to the person behind who having joined you at the counter will place both arms on either side of you. A very protective gesture no doubt but also highly protectionist – it is chiefly to prevent those behind from trying to sneak ahead. This way, apart from the person listening in, you also have the joy of him breathing down your neck, filling your personal space with body odour and pinning you to the counter with no leeway for any movement. MMM has in such situations adopted an unfailing trick – drop a pen and quickly in the process of ducking down to retrieve it, push the interloper firmly away. This is of course not a lasting solution, for such people usually tend to make a comeback, not for once realizing that they were wrong in the first place.
Anyway, such happenings have now become a rarity and so MMM’s advice is that you need to enjoy it while it lasts. Only shopping these days is no joy, for you are looking for commodities that are increasingly difficult to find and expensive. And by the time these products come back, the old queue behaviour will also be back. MMM heard someone saying the other day that life will never be the same after COVID. He disagrees and predicts that we will go back to our old ways. And MMM would much prefer those small discomforts when compared to what we are going through now.