Queueing Theory

“As an important person, I am entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi and cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn. Hence, I did not bother to reach here in time, knowing I could take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit. I can play the ‘victim’ card, or bulldoze the off person who dares to object, to get ahead.”

He had actually said, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?”

I had cleared the queue to enter the terminal building, and the queue to drop my checked in bag, for my flight to Bangalore in the morning, the previous Sunday, and had entered the third and last queue, for the Security Check, before I got in to the queue to show my boarding card to the airline staff at the gate, followed by the queue to enter the bus that took us to the aircraft, followed by the queue to enter the aircraft, when he had uttered these words.

And he had almost edged past me completely, assuming, I assume, that all was good, and that I should be grateful for the privilege he was according me, of letting him pass, when I had made my move and blocked his path. “Please come in queue. My flight is also about to take off,” I had said firmly.

Clearly not used to such a response, the gentleman appeared lost at first, but quickly composed himself and said, matter-of-factly, “But I will miss my flight.” Apparently, it was my problem that he was going to miss his flight.

“If you are in a hurry, please ask the airline staff to help you speed up the process.” I was in the mood to be logical and reasonable. I also looked around to others in the queue, hoping they would support my logical stance. But they were engaged in other important tasks to save the world, peering into their mobile phones.

“But the airline staff said they cannot help me with the security process,” he said, agony of that slight writ large on his face.

“So it becomes my responsibility to flirt with the possibility of getting delayed myself and letting you go through?” I responded, bringing all my years of experience writing satire to bear upon that single statement, hoping to shame him to the point of withering away, while appealing to the baser instincts of others, as, by this time, the sight of two adults engaged in a quarrel of sorts had ensured that a small crowd had gathered around us, leaving their places in the queue. It was a relief to know that watching a spectacle live is still more important than saving the world on a mobile screen.

“What time is your flight?” someone asked the other gentleman.

“7.45,” he responded.

“What time is your flight?” the same person asked me.

“7.50,” I responded, holding up my boarding card.

“So let him go through then. His flight is before yours, is it not?”

The others joined in the chorus. I wilted under this onslaught. He quickly stepped past me flashing a smile of victory that said, “Take that you idiot.” As many others had left their positions in the queue, he was able to quickly get through to the Security Check station.

Failure to learn fast has never been one of my weaknesses. Though chastened, almost three seconds later, when the next person came up who was late for the flight he had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, and made his move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” I was ready. I shook his hand, wished him a pleasant flight, and requested the person ahead of me in the queue, to let him pass.

As I kept flagging people past me in the queue, and as people who were late for the flight they had to catch that was almost at the same time as mine, kept making their move with, “My flight is about to take off. May I please go ahead of you?” my mind wandered off to those happy days at the Well Known Institute of Management in Western India (WIMWI), and to Professor Tripathi’s class on Production and Operations Management, over thirty years back. “Single queue multiple server,” I was hearing him say, “is the most efficient form of queueing, that optimises wait time for the customer and idle time for the server.”

But man keeps pushing the envelope. New discoveries are being made every day. Little would Professor Tripathi have known, that even before he retired from WIMWI, there would be an even more efficient way of queueing; of people showing up late and cutting the queue.

Soon, the only two people standing behind me were two greying ladies, who looked like they were foreigners. I looked at them pityingly. It was clear they did not have the benefit of good education. Of modern theories of queueing. They may have good communication skills, good interpersonal skills, respect for people, but theories of queueing? With such a gap in their knowledge, how could they hope to get ahead? At least in queues in India.

As I continued to be the last but two in the queue, having moved barely a few inches from the time I had entered, I realised that I will miss my flight if I did not clear security in the next five minutes. Being a quick learner, as I have perhaps mentioned earlier, I stepped on the accelerator, alternating between playing the ‘victim’ card and bulldozing my way through the few uneducated souls who dared to object, scythed through the queue, and reached the Security Check point. I had a flight to catch, after all.

Not to be left behind in demonstrating their speed of learning, the Delhi airport authorities decided to resolve the issue of delays in the Security Check queue by creating a separate fast track queue for important persons, entitled to be ahead of the hoi polloi, who cannot be bothered about niceties like queues and waiting-for-your-turn, who do not bother to reach in time, knowing they can take advantage of the apathy of the common people and their diffidence in taking a principled stand, even for their own benefit, by playing the ‘victim’ card, or bulldozing the off person who dares to object.

It is remarkable what can be achieved with a little effort, some imagination and a lot of resolve. In as short a period of time as a week. The Security Check queue presented a transformed look yesterday, which, again, was a Sunday. The regular queue was clear as a crisp February day in Gurgaon. One could see miles out to the security personnel swatting flies as they waited for the next passenger to show up.

Meanwhile, all passengers stood in the fast track queue, along with everyone else who was flying out from Delhi at that time, beneficiaries of Delhi airport authorities alacrity in implementing a solution, continuously moving ahead of others in the queue, even as the others kept moving ahead of them.

 

Train of thought

I have been invited by a friend from college days to his hometown for his 50th birthday bash next week. He lives in a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

I hooked up with another college friend living in Gurgaon, who was also invited, hoping that we could travel together.

“We have the option of going on the 14th night by train which reaches at 4 AM in the morning on the 15th. Or else we could take a flight on the 15th,” I confidently updated him as I had done some research on the tickets.

“Flight? To where?,” came his response, aware as he was that this small town did not boast of an airport.

“Bhopal”, I informed him. “It is then a 3 hour drive from Bhopal to his town.”

He said, absent-mindedly, “Not sure if we should take the train. The night will get messed up. We won’t be able to sleep properly if we have to get off at 4 AM. And, if that happens, we will not be able to enjoy the celebrations later that day.”

He seemed to have a point. I added, nodding, “And we could also end up messing up the night for the person who will pick us up from the station at that unearthly hour.”

There was silence at the other end of the phone line. Suddenly, the phone crackled again, “Most likely it is a poor taxi driver. And, it might disturb the sleep of his wife as well who may be getting up to ensure that her husband at least gets a cup of tea before he leaves home.” He sounded concerned. He had clearly been thinking about what I had said.

I could see where he was going, and added my concern, “What about their children? Their sleep could also be disturbed on account of the commotion in the house. Most likely they live in a small house. They may need to miss school that day.”

He was quick to understand. He said, “And if they have exams going on, as many schools do in December, they might have to miss an important exam.”

I was horrified. I said, “Noooo… That means they may have to fail the grade. They might be forced to repeat the year. Not only that, they will become the laughing stock of their peer group, and outcasts in the junior class they are forced to join.”

He said, slowly, weighing each word, “And       that     could      be     their     first     step      towards      juvenile      delinquency. They could get into acts of petty crime in order to show their defiance to the world.”

I said, “And small acts of crime, if unchecked, eventually lead to bigger acts of crime. Encouraged by their small deeds of crime, they may even run away from home to a big city hoping to make it big in the world of crime.”

“Can you even imagine what their parents would go through if that happens? They may have been able to handle petty acts of crime and bring them back in line, but surely their running away would devastate the parents”, he rightly pointed out.

“It could lead their mother into a state of permanent depression. Perhaps even an early death. The father would probably neglect his work and run around looking for his children. And that road eventually only leads to the bottle,” I said.

“The children, meanwhile, having somehow reached the big city, might have to face the harsh realities of life. They may have to beg for food on the streets,” he suggested, as if from experience. I knew where it was coming from. I shared that experience with my friend.

“And who knows, they could become eager recruits for one of the many crime syndicates who keep looking for recruits for their cause all the time,” I said, trying to objectively look ahead, based on extensive knowledge on the subject from years of watching Bollywood movies, especially about twins separated at birth or in the local fair.

“And one day, having achieved a modicum of success in the underworld, they might return to their town to look for their parents. Finding their mother dead and father gone to waste could only incite hatred against the world, for causing such untold misery and pain to them and their parents, and motivate them to take revenge,” he said confidently.

“And, as we know, anger can cause a dropping of your guard and lead to mistakes. In such a state one can become blind to dangers. They could invite the wrath of law-enforcement agencies, leading to either arrest or elimination in an encounter,” I added.

Even the thought of such a possibility was too much to bear.

He asked, “Do you want to be responsible for the untimely death of two school-going children and their mother, and the father going to waste over drink?”

I responded, “No, do you?”

“Not at all,” he responded without a moment’s hesitation. My chest swelled with pride. There was a reason he was my friend.

We decided to make informed, responsible choices. We decided we will not go by the train that reaches at 4 AM the next morning. We decided to take the flight, narrowly averting the calamitous chain of events we could have triggered had we taken the train.