It is telling that doctors have something called a waiting room. It underlines the fact that when we are made to wait for what feels like hours, every time we catch a cold, it is not an accident, but part of a well-designed plan. Time becomes blank in a doctor’s waiting room. It starts out with a shape and a sound but as minutes tick on, and the scene around one stabilises into a form of permanence, time begins to lose definition. It is no longer something we are inside, but something we can observe with a degree of detachment. In the old days, when doctors had clinics that tried to conjure up an image of homeliness, there were a desultory set of magazines that lay around, daring us to read them. Reading those magazines made time even more wretched. Now, of course, as medicine has become corporatised, the cosy sitting rooms of yore have given way to large halls, which have television sets that are almost always tuned to some obscure news channel that is determined to make us unhappy about something.
In some government hospitals, waiting is never idle.
In places that do not have a formal system of queues (and even in places that do), one is always at war with other patients, either trying to break the queue through acts of artifice and even bribery, or to prevent others from doing so. Waiting here is a stressful event, for one can never let one’s guard down. In India, this kind of waiting is quite normal, given that there are always ways of cutting the queue, whether at an airport, ration shop or railway reservation counter, and one toggles freely between trying to do so oneself and hating anyone else who tries to do the same.
Waiting would seem to be a state of blankness with the same empty quality of far from being so. Every different form of waiting comes with its own timbre, firing its own set of neurons in our brains. Desultory waiting, anxious waiting, hopeless waiting, excited waiting. Waiting for a flight. Waiting in a flight. Waiting in a traffic jam. Waiting at a level crossing. Waiting for the flight to land. Waiting to cross immigration. Waiting for a class to end. Waiting in a queue. For a film ticket that might at any time become unavailable. Waiting for a computer to boot. For the phone to ring. For the result to appear on the website. Time has a way of losing its apparent objectivity. Subjective time is full of caprice, behaving differently at different times. It drips. It sits still. It stretches. It yawns in slow motion. It stutters. It curves. It expands. It vanishes, rolling up into a ball. The clock hand resigns. Time ceases to matter. One lives in a time-free zone.
Waiting becomes easier when time is accompanied by activity. When there are markers of time, then time breaks down into manageable bits as it counts down. Queues that are long but moving feel infinitely better than those that show no inclination to move. A longer route where traffic is moving is preferable to a shorter one where it is sludge.
(To be continued)
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