The “uncivilized” India – When I lose my nerves

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Standing in a queue: a predictable chaos

I am waiting at a bus stand in a city in Haryana. With a lot of luggage. Two backpacks: A big one on my back and a small on in front of me on the floor. If I had not carried presents for my hosts it would have been just one and a lot anger less. But I got acquainted with the culture, as the good anthropologist or human that I am. The ticket counter has stayed empty since the 15 minutes that I am waiting here. Probably tea break. The tiny advantages of having one of the popular government jobs. Do less, take time and get a good salary. This kind of job is generally the aim of the common Indian. Sad, because they could also do a good job if they wanted.

And then suddenly something happens. Two men enter the little metal hut. I expected the chaos which evolved in front of my eyes. I know my Indians. But still: To handle two backpacks is always annoying. To enter a bus, I will wear the small one on the back and carry the bigger one, to be able to store it somewhere. In the trains it is different, because you will have to walk the small gangway towards your seat. But in a crowd of pushing people? Besides my predictions, I am not prepared. From everywhere, people are approaching the small gridded window to get a ticket. Maybe 30 people in total. And even though I have started as the third or fourth in line, it does not get crowded behind me, but in front of me. Every new person vehemently claims his right to get his ticket first. My backpack troubles me.

To push or to be pushed

The two officers behind the gridded window slowly start their work. Meanwhile, the scramble, in German language we use the term “human-grape”, reminds me of a situation a few years ago in Germany. At that time, I tried to get tickets for the Champions League’s final match between Borussia Dortmund and Bavaria Munich. Some people fell unconscious there. And finally, no one got a ticket there. It is the same nonsense here. Even without pushing and scrambling, everyone would get a ticket. There are enough seats. This is why I stand and try not to push. A miserable attempt to be the rock in the shore.

About one meter in front of me, the people cumulate into the most childish bunch of bad-mannered human beings. The service hatch is made for the exchange of money and tickets. It is big enough to serve one person at a time and give it enough space. But here you will find five hands squeezing through that tiny hole to display their one hundred rupees right under the nose of the officer. When the hands catch a ticket, they will withdraw with tiny bruises. The sacrifice you have to take here. I am asking myself, for how long I would survive in this job without a meltdown or the use of violence. And then I ask myself, how many hands you could separate from their possessors with one blow of an axe. Meanwhile, a person on the left is pushing so hard that my violent dreams get disrupted.

„Sir, your Backpack hurts.“ A young lady, maybe my age, maybe a little younger, looks at me with ugly blame in her eyes. On the left side of the grape, the lady-line has evolved. Because in India, women are treated separately. That’s fine for me, as long as they do not try to piss me off. It is not me pushing my backpack into her face, but it is her, pushing her face against the grape. I try to ignore her, to not use abusive language. Shanty, Shanty. Then an older woman somehow squeezes into the tiny space in front of me. I am pushed back and the only possibility for me to give the woman any more space would be to leave the ticket counter. I also become a victim of her anger. I do not understand the quickly spoken Haryani dialect, but I understand that she is abusing me. I ask her how long she has already been waiting. Two minutes or twenty, like me?

She continutes abusing and I just reply “Han, kitne badtamis voh forener hain.” Yes, look at thos bad-mannered foreigners. The reaction comes from the younger woman, who gave up on the grape. A simple, “Oh my god”, that will piss me off even days later, due to its devaluing arrogance. Firstly, because she did not have the balls to speak it right to my face, secondly because of the way she said it and thirdly, because it was simply a misplaced comment.

I indeed lost my nerves

I am sorry, young lady, but you have not realized the problem. I can live with it, it is not my country, not my people who are to ruthless to neatly line-up, who need separate queues for females, so that people will not grope at spots, where their hands should not be found. It is not my country, where people cannot recognize who is pushing whom. And unfortunately, I cannot drop my backpack just around the corner at a bus stand in Haryana, to join the crowd. Probably I cannot to this anywhere in the world.

It is a situation that does not often occur. Usually, I take problems with a smile or attempts to cooperate in a productive way. I apologize, where I have not been guilty, and I take things easy. Anger is created in our minds, not on the street. Sometimes, I feel like a modern Jesus or Buddha, who, in his peaceful spirits, takes everything and forgets that he has an own character and an opinion that he likes to defend and fight for. But my life as an anthropologist has made me so weak, that I have a guilty conscience now. After all, the solution would have been very simple: „Okay madam, you take care of my backpack and I will buy a ticket for both of us within a minute.” To sad that I did not think about that option. But the people made me become irrational. Whatever, Jesus also has freaked out in a temple once. And Buddha probably has never stood at a bus stand in Haryana. So? I have created a bad image of the Western people once. I doubt that the people here can differentiate between individuals, just like our people cannot do it with people that are not white. Sorry, friends.

Uncivilized India

Yes, I am provocative, using an expression that I usually cannot talk out loud easily. But I have gotten so angry, that I need to release a bit of it. Uncivilized is a hard expression in a country that has been colonized by “civilized” people. The term “civilized”, however, does not mean “developed” or “modern” to me. It simply means that people work together as “civis” (that’s Latin and means “citizen”). I think that the “civilized” imperialists, indeed brought a lot of uncivilized behaviour to the subcontinent. I also believe that undeveloped villages are often more civilized then the developed cities, even our lovely Western ones.

But India will definitely perform well in a contest of uncivilized behaviour. For example, when a man with heavy luggage on the trailer of his bicycle has to stop in traffic, for a fat SUV, even though the driver would just have to move his big toe to accelerate again. The cyclist indeed has to get of the bike and push it a hundred meter, until he finds an empty spot to ride again. But who is he, after all? Just a poor fellow with a low income. Who cares about him? And who cares about twenty men, pushing themselves into a train in Kashmir, while an old lady tries to get off at the station? No-one, until the civilized, tall man from Germany seizes to people by their collars to give a little more space to the woman, who squeezes herself with thankful eyes through the crowd. India is not generally uncivilized, but on many places way too much.

Uncivilized behaviour is contagious

The problem with ruthlessness is, that it is contagious. In many queues here, I can indeed be something like the rock in the shore. Due to my extraordinary size. I can even create a touch of order. But in this case, I could not, and I apologize for my behaviour. I have been uncivilized.  This is the problem: If you are trapped between ruthless behaviour, you become ruthless yourself, because after all, you have to look for yourself. If all people push in front of me, what else can I do than push as well, to get my ticket. It is a kind of mass panic that I am stuck in. Indians can stand in line. You can see it at check-points at the airport or bigger train stations. But somehow, they always need a policeman or security guard with a baton to realize that a queue is something civilized. The same thing happened at the ticket office in Dortmund. There were just a few idiots, who broke the well-accepted rules of standing in line, to create the fear of not getting a ticket in the mass of civilized people. In the end, everyone was pushing so hard that no one got a ticket. Me included.

So this one time (and probably more often than I realize), I have been full of anger and wrath. I am sorry. But I got my punishment. The old lady made it to the counter a few minutes earlier than me and as a special present for my behaviour, I found out that the counter did not sell the tickets that I needed. Even though I have been told so by a helpful, civilized man before. He has been wrong, I forgive him, because at least he tried to help. Not like me, today.

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