Last evening I heard from a friend who handles public relations for a well-known nightclub in the city. You know, the kinds where entry is fairly restricted and cover charges equal some guys’ monthly salary. “I’m so frustrated. I got a call at 3am from a magazine editor, demanding to get in with some friends,” he said.
When he reminded this full of life, fun-loving editor that most people sleep at that hour of the night and he too belonged to the most-people category, he was bluntly told that she doesn’t care and somehow he must ensure that they get entry, and of course, for free. My initial reaction to him was that of shock at how people, that too from a ‘responsible’ profession like media, could be so darn unreasonable. A few minutes of thinking and I began to wonder if I was really surprised. I was not.
In fact no one who has grown up in Delhi, and for that matter, any part of the country, can claim to have not seen the misuse of power — by those who have it, also by those who claim to know those who have it. Come to think of it, most of us, including the ones who are reading this and the one who’s writing this, are contact junkies, as in, we use our contacts or position to make life easy for ourselves by getting our work done quickly at the cost of others. And we enjoy using this power.
But my question today is, what happens when you are on the other side? Does it stress you out if you are a meek witness to someone else’s (mis)use of power? In other words, do you get upset if you’ve been standing in a queue and someone else with ‘contacts’ whizzes by, without having to wait? And if you do, how do you deal with that feeling? I remember visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine many years ago, on a day when the queue of devotees waiting for the deity’s darshan was over 3km long.
Remembering that a friend was a senior army officer posted in that region, I called him for help and soon enough, an army jawan arrived to escort us past the queue and straight to the sanctum sanctorum. To be honest, I was momentarily elated at how my contacts helped us avoid several hours of wait in the queue. But as I walked behind that army man in the passage, I happened to look up into the eyes of some people who’d been standing for hours in the queue next to me. Some looked at me with disdain, some with anger and some with an expression that suggested that they’ve resigned to the reality that those with contacts have a different fate than theirs. I walked the rest of the passage with my head bowed, scared of the embarrassment if anyone were to question my shameless bypassing the queue. I saw the same sheepish look on the face of a well known industrialist’s wife at the airport last week, as a guy in customs officer’s uniform helped her go past the long immigration queue. And since this time I happened to be the one waiting in the queue, I, along with others in the queue, felt a valid sense of outrage. And then it occurred to me that deep inside we were not miffed at the wrong that was happening. We were upset because we were not in her position, to be able to do exactly what she was doing — misuse power.
I kept thinking what should a stressed person in such a situation have done. Raise a voice and openly object to the wrong that’s happening? Or try and find their own contact so that they too never have to stand in the queue in future? Or be a silent, frustrated spectator, trying to come to terms with the fact that such things happen, everywhere. I don’t have an answer. Can you help?
Sonal Kalra is so stressed about how people misuse authority that she has decided to get her heart checkup done. She is just looking for the right contact in the hospital. There are such long patient queues otherwise, you know.