Nearly 30 years ago, when I began teaching in a Bombay college, a one-act-play contest was organized by the Marathi literary association. One of the plays that bowled us over was named Q. We could not quite guess what that single, intriguing alphabet in English translated into Marathi was getting at. But as the play opened inside a crematorium, the message dawned on us – there were around 20 dead bodies lined up to be cremated because of the three furnaces of which one was electric, only one was functional while the other two were not. Beside these dead bodies, other queues joined in separate lines to see that no one jumps the queue which, the play said, was quite often the case. Some of the ‘dead bodies’ on stage, unable to remain still, began to move a bit triggering fun in the audience. But this did not disturb the queue.

I recall the long queues at the local ration shop in Shivaji Park when I was a girl of ten or eleven and essential commodities like rice, wheat, jowar, bajra, etc were sold only across these controlled outlets under something known as the Essential Commodities Act. My mother would often push me to ‘reserve’ a place in the ‘line’ which soon became serpentine. I did not quite understand what “reserve a place in the line” meant so I barged into that ever-increasing line anywhere I wanted to, turning a deaf ear to all the adults who screamed at me for ‘jumping’ the line. I really could not understand what all the shouting was about and stood firmly rooted to my place which was someone else’s place till I took it. The ration shop owner, who was also our regular grocer, would quieten them saying that I was a child after all so they could give me a ‘chance.’ But when mother came and let me free, she had to bare the brunt of the simmering anger among people I had pushed through and had to wait one more turn.

I recall that we used the word ‘line’ and not ‘queue’ those days and I learnt to spell the word correctly much later when our English teacher struck off every single “Q” in an essay she had asked us to write and we all spelt it wrong. Since then, I pushed my chest out proudly each time sometime asked me the right spelling and I came out with it, just like that!

But standing in a ‘line” that moved from Plaza Cinema in Dadar in Bombay to turn around from Kohinoor Mills towards Shivaji Park meant nothing at 12 just to be able to bag five tickets to the upper stall at one rupee four annas per ticket to watch V. Shantaram’s Toofan Aur Diya, a box office hit. My friends and I stood in that long line from ten in the morning for the three p.m. show and as we took out the small change to hand it across the counter, the jingle of the small coins made us feel as if we had won a war! As we waited in that ever-increasing ‘line’, we had our share of chips (we did not know ‘wafers’ then), and samosas and ragda patties shelling out the money we had saved for months from our bus fare to and from school because our mothers had only shelled out the ticket money.

After finishing school, I stood with my father for six hours from six in the morning till 12 noon to gain entry at the admission hall of Ramnarain Ruia College with mark sheet in hand, folding it up carefully so that no one could see the embarrassing marks I got in science subjects. But the line moved from one hall to the next as low percentage holders were eliminated and finally, the fourth hall took the form from my hand, the money from my father and I proudly became a student at a reputed college in the city.

Decades later, now a mellow 50, I stood in a very long queue with my graduate daughter on the streets outside Sophia College off Warden Road for admission forms for a post-graduate diploma in mass communications. After four hours of waiting without food or drink because that was not allowed and there were no kiosks nearby, we reached the window where admission forms were given out. We filled out the form and waited in another long queue for four hours for the written test and another two hours for the ‘interview’. My daughter was the last candidate called in. I strolled outside, my angry stomach making noises because it was empty. By the time the interview got over – it took just fifteen minutes – it was close to nine. Cell phones had not come around yet so panic buttons from home remained silent. Ten hours from eleven in the morning till nine in the night – for thirty minutes of written test and interview that came to nothing because my daughter was denied admission!

A few years ago, I happened to hear of the path-breaking filmmaker who called himself “Q.” You heard me right. He edited his name from Qaushik (normally spelt Kaushik) to Q because he felt that it was not necessary to hang on to a baggage of a lengthy name. His then-girlfriend Rituparna had also sliced her name to Ree. Poor Quashik. His name attracted more intrigue than his first film which never drew a long or short queue because it was never released. So, he is probably back to his original name Qaushik. In any case, since everyone now knows what his original name is, there was no point in cutting it down to Q.

The long queues outside the stinking ladies’ toilets on the Bombay-Pune highway, or outside a well-equipped, perfumed restroom in a shopping mall or cinema theatre is a must because the pressure of peeing creates extreme discomfort for women on the one hand and is a social responsibility on the other. But in all these years, I had never ever dreamt of queuing up in front of a bank counter to withdraw and/or deposit my own money from or into my own bank account.

Last week, as I walked away from the ATM without entering the bank and looked back at the long queue that went on growing like the magic tail of a fantasy dragon, all I could ask myself is- that with those bottles of water from kind-hearted volunteers and bank staff and politicians’ cutlery kept on the ready for senior citizens standing for the right rupee, is there any provision for them to pee in a swachha souchalaya anywhere near the bank? So, that is why I walked away – to ru-pee or not to ru-pee was the only Q that I was rushing away from. Peeing, I realised, is sometimes more important than the Q! But PM Modi probably forgot that peeing, for all senior citizens made to stand in a queue the whole day is more urgent than demonetisation!

(Cover Photograph ARAV TEWARI, 11years. This is his taken on demonetisation)