I join the long queue of people waiting to pay their house tax in the municipal office. It’s the first time that I get to taste the life of a common man who spends most of his life waiting in queues at government offices or bus stands. I see empty blank faces with expressions as cold as a stone. The fan over our head too fails to ward off the heat as the passage where we stand is narrow, unkempt and stinky. With abated breath each one in the row waits for his turn at the window so that he can escape from this narrow dungeon. The work proceeds at a snail pace with government officers busy taking breaks either for tea or to munch biscuits given to them by some colleague. A stern looking pot bellied watchman guides obedient tax payers ensuring that people don’t barge into the queue causing unnecessary trouble.
People take turns to sit on three small chairs placed by mistake in the passage amidst piles of accounts books. Perhaps, the Diwali cleaning was still going on in this office I thought. Standing in the queue I kept looking at my surrounding, observing the placidity on the faces of the people waiting in the line despite of sweat dripping down their forehead. How can they be ok about this discomfort and inhumane behaviour levied on them for ages now?
I peeped inside the glass window partly covered with grills and saw a fat man sitting on the chair. He looked bored, harassed and misfit for the job. Ironically, the computer placed on his table was not working which made his job all the more mundane and difficult since he had to lift a pen to scribble on the receipt book. I see his eye glimmer in joy on seeing cutting chai and parleji biscuits. It gives him a chance to take a break when it is not required. A well oiled lady dressed in pink saree darts her cold smile on him and snatches away the biscuit packet leaving few for him on the table. Surprisingly this man was calm as a cucumber and did not get annoyed by this lady’s act of snatching the packet away from him in front of the huge crowd standing on the other side of glass window. Wow! I said something to cheer about in this dull boring government office that actually resembles a old decrepit monument.
But amidst observation and humour I thought over that life of a common man can be quite nerve wrecking and gut wrenching. Do they ever get to get high on drugs or enjoy a party on hill top? Where do they get their share of excitement and enjoyment in life? Their hardened facial expression would not even soften by applying oodles of moisturising cream. Or for that matter their chapped feet would take ages to heal even after several pedicure sessions. Even their fashion sense would be restricted to shades of bright flashy pink or deep itchy orange for colours like mauve, blue or sky blue would only encourage frowns and smirks from them.
When I was lost in my thought a sudden flush of loud voices brought me back to reality. Few people were shouting at the officer who was busy enjoy the tea break while others standing in the queue in the tail end were contemplating to go without paying their taxes. One man returns with a receipt in his hand informing others standing in the queue, ‘This receipt is temporary, you will have to come back to take the computerised receipt later on. The computers are not working today.’ The information came as an ultimate blow to those waiting in line to those who smiled their way to home after clearing their dues. Now I knew that real action was all set to take place. Not wanting to be a party to the event, I made a hasty exit and ran towards the stairs that ended on the exit door. Phew!