Stand in queue please!


Chitra Ahanthem

A familiar routine of life in Manipur and more so specifically true of Imphal is the sight of long winding queues: for petrol, at the post office, at the bank, at ATM booths, on the road (the queues of un-moving vehicles), at the air-port at check in and security check areas etc. In the good old days, a queue was an almost alien concept that would be often short and made up of polite people willing to wait it out for their turn to come up. Cut to present day where everyone is in a painful rush to get to the head of the queue on one side while the person at the other side of the queue remains slow trying to figure out which keys to hit on the computer key-board or worse, making small talk on the mobile!

The spectacle of serpentine queues at petrol pumps are thankfully over though the manner in which the huge black market of petrol vanished into thin air looks like an unsolved mystery. There are many theories: that the black market folded after the pressure from the Central Government; that there wasn’t much point selling petrol at hiked prices considering that the market price was getting hiked across the country because of inflation. For whatever reason that the long queues at petrol pumps have gone away, it has only brought much relief to consumers who no longer have to set off in a maddening rush with vehicles and stay up a night or think of innovative ideas to mark a place amongst people waiting their turn: a cardboard with vehicle number, a vehicle spare-tyre and what not!

The queues at post offices and bill payment counters are a bit painful, considering that mostly it is because of slow computer typing speeds. The more the senior the employee is, the more time it takes for the consumer service to be completed and sometimes, one wonders if it would not be better off for everyone if older/senior people who man counters can do manual data entry or be working on computer touch screens so they don’t have to fumble across the key-boards. Queues also mean an opportunity to make some quick money: many enterprising people would stand in line in lieu of senior citizens standing to take their monthly pensions. They would then call the senior citizen concerned from their mobile numbers once their turns would be coming in.

Not so long ago, there would be common queues in Manipur at least but with time, there came separate ones for men and women. In most cities of India, separate queues have brought welcome relief from groping male bodies but here, standing in a shorter line for women often means having to fend off “requests” from men who are total strangers asking to be “helped out”. There are the humourous aspect of it too: on one occasion, there was no one in the women queue while the line for the men was quite long. As I walked in, the men chimed in, “nupa mangaa gi nupi ama” (literally meaning five men for one woman, clearly alluding that five men would have their turn before a woman would be allowed but look at it in another context and one would be forgiven for thinking something totally different!). Another time there was no one in the women line and seeing a long line of disgruntled men, I promptly stood behind the last man thinking that it was the best. My egalitarian spirit went for a toss as those in the line were the ones who made me to stay in a seperate line, which also meant that I was walking off while they remained behind, waiting for their turns to come.

Currently, it is the queues at the ATM booths that are giving ulcers to consumers and the larger public. The popular long form of ATM is “Any time money” (technically, ATM stands for Automated Teller Machines) since the setting up of ATMs have taken away the need for long queues in banks and having to wait for long periods of time while bank transactions take place. In most places in the country, there are ATM booths for under a radius of 5 Km and it operates for 24 hours for 7 days of the week. In Manipur, no one can think of taking out money before 11 a.m. Reason? No cash in the ATM machine. Any inquiry to the ATM staff won’t help at all: they simply do not know. If you are having those lucky days where there is indeed cash in the machine, there is the server connection to contend with. Yes, having more ATM booths open would help but mostly, it is about the kind of service that the respective banks and their ATM machines are dishing out. If the cash stock is replenished at regular intervals and if the service is a 24 hour non interrupted cycle, one does not have to stick it out in the queues for long.


The queues at ATM booths are the most insightful ones on social norms here: there is no concept of an individual’s privacy. Most times, there is a crowd of people inside the booth looking beyond one’s shoulders as you hope and pray that the money gets transacted, that the server does not break down, that the machine does not swallow up your card etc. Apart from the funny side to it, it is a huge security breach and actually shows the irresponsibility of the staff at the ATM booths. But till the time some serious efforts are taken up to address the long queues at ATM booths, it would mean lining up on the streets and adding to the traffic volume on the streets.

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  1. ATM,shopping malls or even leisure zones that people have made so far are for the requirements which is closely related with each other.Here in Kangleipak,there are larger issues and needs to be addressed as Mr Coutinho mentioned too.Introducing ATM is a good thing but have missed certain steps before that other counterpart states have.I m talking about how this facilities are availed and used to the fullest.And I m not talking about how this machine are used physically,spitted, abused,or people’s demeanor.Cause I can safely conclude that there is nothing difference with ours and other counterparts by which no means want to encourage such deliquesce.Coutinho’s london story sounds good in this case!Few factors I have found Ms “chitra” is trying to convey but misses critical analysis on the subject.Question of” Why” is definitely justified!My point is people at large unknowingly “expecting too much” with no real ground of “home work” done before!Now see,”why”?I should “expect” 24 hrs running ATM when Kangleipak has larger issue of real paucity of electricity(electric geneator isnt a solution!);”why”?do we “expect” “descent queue” when respective banks do find wobbling in maintaining it and not sincere enough from top rung management turning “serpentine queues”!;”Why”? do you expect Mr X to “type flawlessly without fumbling” when at large in kangleipak computer’s literacy is not at all in way to talk about and corruption is in grass root level,whether its about”Mr X” got this job of “typing” on computer with no what so ever computer’s know-how background!I dont want to continue..hope you got it my point!Crux,as I mentioned lightly before,its” not about just talking about”!Rightly said”Having said that the ATM ruck is a fun problem for Kangleipak. I’d happily keep it as a problem if you could solve any of the others.”Long live queues!Cheers

  2. There are safer areas of Manipur and not so safe areas. This is my third week in Imphal. It irritates me when people resort to splitting. I have met Manipuris who are devious two faced and nasty as anywhere in the world. And I have met Manipuris who are quietly selflessly heroic who are among the most decent beautiful souls in the universe. And all they say is the equivalent of just doing my job ma’am.

    The ATMs are as crap as anywhere in India. If someone wanted to steal my card I’d hand it over with the PIN number I figure if he has better luck with it then he deserves it. I’ve got some money from the AXIS ATM to the left of the Imphal Classic. I guess Hotel Reception figured I was man hunk of devil and didn’t need a bodyguard so they just gave me directions. But then I can’t remember visiting any country where I have been offered a bodyguard to go to an ATM. I also tried one of the communal ATMs. It had two in the booth one wasn’t giving out cash so people used it to check balances. The other wouldn’t give my card any cash. Yep I’d consider offering tours to tourists for the Manipur ATM experience 50 rupees a throw. A lot cheaper than loktak and until they build a decent road here a lot quicker.

    I find an alternative is to use the Hotel’s cashing facility. It’s only 2.5 percent per transaction and considering the NATWest Bank PLC in London charges me 10% per transaction it’s more than reasonable.

    Having said that the ATM ruck is a fun problem for Manipur. I’d happily keep it as a problem if you could solve any of the others.

  3. The general talk of reducing queue at ATM booths is to increase ATM booths. The question is will there be enough cash to feed these ATM booths..? An occasional Bazar goer knows the SBI ATM at Paona Bazar does not function most of the time for various reasons ranging from the booth located a mere 100/150 metres away from the Paona Bazar branch of SBI. Come Ningol Chakouba, Christmas, banks struggle to feed cash in ATMs let alone alone normal working days. This trend is likely to continue in the next few years or so, reason there is only one RBI Chest in the entire state at SBI, MG Avenue. The proposal to open a branch of RBI was put forth a couple of years back when the Governor of RBI came down to Imphal. Seems therez no development 2 years down the line.

    Better not expect much from the Centre, u see it took them more than five months to send a few companies of CRPF when the entire state was struggling for even the most basic needs of survival.

  4. @pearl,
    nice experience to share with.
    At least, you get to withdraw money. Many people had much tiring experiences like going from an ATM boot to another at differrent locations.
    You could have seen much more inside the ATM boot. Security forces on duty would come and break the queue forcibly. Sometimes, quarrel between security forces and brave manipuri women inside ATM boot is also common.

    I also had seen people standing all over for good time in the queue just to check bank balance. At my level best, I tried to request some of the people to active mobile banking facilities.

    When I was growing up, I knew two queues 1. LPG cylinders and 2. queues for movie ticket. (I am not sure right now, but as per my experience in early to late 90’s, kala bazaar was very popular).

    Well, behaviour of people standing in queue is very polite in manipur considering the pathetic conditions there. People are very simple by nature in Manipur. Many people go to strangers
    with their ATM PIN and card to withdraw money. I don’t know whether this is an accident waiting to happen. But, till now, I didn’t hear any ATM card fraud from Manipur. Even, considering the law and order problems compounded by poverty there in Manipur, I haven’t heard of gurds stealing money from ATM unlike Delhi and many other cities where trusted guards and technicians stole crores of rupees.

    • @ Pearl: glad that you could draw money..the SBI ATM is the last resort for people wanting to draw money in the evening. It is a mix of lack of security issues (getting the transaction code, risk of money getting stolen etc) on one hand and the lack of appreciation for an individual’s privacy. But I can gurantee you that in case the crowd at the booth was a mix of old and yong people and one would have dared rob you..anyone who attempted to try that to a single Non Manipuri woman would have his legs broken immediately..that is how the people would have case they tried to rob the cash there 🙂
      @Sanjib: there may well be a time would be a series of accidents waiting to happen. atleast AXIS ATM booths (the only private bank with ATM service currently in Manipur) has better security: they allow only those who are drawing money inside the booth. but apart from this, everything is the same: no cash, server down…booth closed etc etc. in between, there was indeed a case where unknown persons had tried to steal the ATM machine at night one day..must have thought there must be cash inside..expectedly, the CCTV camera inside the booth had not recorded anything..because it got turned off when the booth shut for the day!!!!they turn it on only when the booth is open..I rest my case!!!

  5. Recently i had this visit to Manipur and especially amazed to see the etiquette in ATM Booths. It’s palatable to see queues in other areas like Petrol bunks because of certain obvious reasons. But the ATM booths were a bit obnoxious. After getting the information that ATM booths are available in Imphal, I had taken not much cash with me. But in Day 1, my cash got exhausted in just a visit to 2 heritage shops in the main bazaar area. During the daytime I planned not to stand in the queue in some ATM which I saw because of the long queue. The hotel manager suggested that I should go a little late to one ATM opposite to Chief Ministers’ bungalow. With one helper in the hotel, we set out to reach the ATM in that night around 8 Pm. The road was silent and lightings were there throughout (I guess that was something to do with the Republic Day celebration). I was amazed to see the crowd in the ATM and the crowd was not outside the booth but inside! There was literally no place left inside and surprisingly there were no security personnel in and around. Inside of me, there was a voice shouting, “Hey, that’s not the way it should be! The queue should be formed outside the Booth, not inside” but, I dared not say anything as I was warned by the hotel manager not to speak or look eye to eye with anyone. Looking over the shoulder when somebody is punching in those PIN no, which is supposed to be confidential!???? Some young chaps were kicking the machine because it was slow! I was scared if somebody just snatches the money and runs away. But I was kind of relieved as the helper with whom I came was kind of heavily built local guy.

    I strongly condemn the way the ATM booths are operated and it should be streamlined. It can be done through the bank and the should be regulated in co-operations with the city police as done in other states.

    Otherwise, I liked the queue which I stood for 30 minutes in front of a saloon for a quick hair dressing, only for the reason that I had the opportunity to stand in the SUN rather than go inside the damp and cold dressing room early in the morning 


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