We Indians pride ourselves in being a product of a rich historical and cultural heritage. I’m not sure if that is the reason but there is also a pervasive holier-than-thou, sanctimonious haughtiness about us that sets us apart from others. It is this sense of being better than others that, I fear, could be India’s nemesis.
I recently spent a week in Hong Kong, which not only conditioned me therapeutically, but, to my surprise, also introduced me to a perspective which is very hard to grasp, being in my motherland. For example, the cars all drove at a very high speed. No, it was not the smooth-as-butter roads, nor was it the super-fast super-costly sedans, though one can’t deny their presence. We were travelling by a taxi on that day for the first time when we saw a huge double-decker bus approaching at around 70kmph (which also happened to be the speed of our taxi) on the road that merged with our road, but the lane in which the bus was travelling happened to be the one right next to ours. It is a normal reflex for us to slow down at such a junction. But to our utter surprise, the driver of the taxi drove confidently, without so much as turning his head ever so slightly, and merged in the bigger road with the huge bus right next to our taxi. It was then that we realized that here everyone did the same, no one slowed down at junctions; in fact no one had to slow down, because it was assumed that the other person won’t attempt to change the lane and would keep cruising, undisturbed, unconcerned, disciplined, in their own respective lane. It was this sense of faith in the other, this sense of civic sense which made me wonder how different this is from India where everyone is in a rush to reach somewhere; where on highways, overtaking from right, left or centre – everything goes.
A similar experience we had at all the queues we waited in – there was no intention of anyone of jumping the line, and everyone waited for their turn, be it at ticket counters, smaller lifts, metro (MTR) stations or the queues for immigration at the Hong Kong airport. Every officer was unruffled and there did not seem to be any sense of urgency, neither among the officers, nor among the people in the queue, and at the same time no dilly-dallying was perceptible either. The work moved on efficiently. We noticed a stark contrast to this as soon as we set foot at the Indira Gandhi International Airport at New Delhi. At the immigration queue, a female with a kid in tow – more like in fetters, the way the poor kid was being dominated – was right behind me. There were fewer queues, their places determined by the security demarcations, indicating where to go, and greater number of counters. Thus inevitably, each line forked into more number of lines as it approached the counters. On seeing that the “other line”, actually one formed out of the one we were in, seemed shorter, the female right behind us “reminded” us that we were, and had always been, a part of that other shorter line, and that we should move ahead to stand behind those couple of people in front, bypassing at least 4 to 5 people who were legitimately ahead of us. I politely informed her that the seemingly small line was a product of our line itself and that it would be wrong to leapfrog so many people ahead of us. After a mere 8-10 seconds of deep thought, se came up with – “Excuse me, if u don’t want to join that line, let us do so”, and she and her kid passed us by and, to their relief, found themselves only third from the counter. Not to mention that later the same female lost her boarding pass and made me and my friend the last ones to get cleared off from immigration despite the fact that we had initially chosen the smallest queue that there was. So much for saving time! And also a crude reminder that we were back!
There should not be anything debasing in admitting that we, as a people, lack the basic civic sense that governs a society and makes it function efficiently. Although, trying one’s hand at “foreign things” like not honking and still trying to make people not walk in the middle of the road in front of your car, trying to maintain your place at an imaginary queue at the cricket match ticket counters or even stadiums just before a match, or playing the role of a good citizen when in such similar situations, could be demoralizing or even suicidal if one is alone in the endeavour. I do not know how this change could be engendered on such a large scale, but one thing I know – if we do not inculcate this sense of being sociable and mannered in all our routines, we will always remain far behind the “foreign” nations.