Kathmandu:

For those who walk past them or see them through the windows of a microbus, the ones waiting in never ending queues for petrol are quite a sight to marvel. These serpentine queues of humans waiting for a measely few litres of petrol to go a few extra miles raise mundane expressions like ‘Katro line (What a line)’ or ‘Ghaam ma kasto pir (What torture in the sun)’ or some sighs of empathy and a general feeling of ‘What is the country coming to?’

And then our stop comes and we forget the unending queues as we get busy with our own struggle of finding standing space on over-crowded micros, buses and tempos.

But for those who have been lining up in queues despite the scorching sun or drenching rain, there is no forgetting and there certainly isn’t anything amusing about it. Moreover they are so enraged that they are ready to burst into flames at a simple question like, “How long have you been in queue?”

And why not? Satya Narayan Shrestha has been in line since 7:00 pm the day before and said, “It’s been almost 25 years that I have been driving but have never had to wait so long. Even during the andolan things weren’t as bad.”

To this, one Krishna dai added, “We have been in queue for the last 48 hours, but only around 30 vehicles have moved ahead.”

It is afternoon and he has been waiting without a bite to eat and only a cup of tea

in the morning. And the petrol they might receive will last around four or five days, a week, at maximum.

There is so much happening at any given moment in these queues. People have made friends with strangers, some forming groups, and one, who appears to have appointed himself as the leader, giving speeches on the next president of our country, while others agree and nod, while some put forth their views and a discussion erupts.

Alok Baral, who was in line since 5:00 in the morning and hadn’t eaten anything said, “It’s risky to eat anything outside these days, and standing in line in this heat for so long, you never know when you might fall sick.”

As for the petrol he will get he said, “This is for emergencies. I’ll go home and store it.”

And if he does use it, the petrol will probably last around 2-3 days, and then the same saga continues.

Many like Baral have not even gone to office. And as Baral said, “They had to give me leave, otherwise without petrol there is no way I can go to work.”

These queues are plumb business opportunities for the hawkers who have set up shop nearby. The carts are laden with momos, sausages, fruits, coconut, cold drinks, soda, ice-cream. Those waiting in queues at least won’t starve or die of thirst, it seems.

Someone shouts that the line is moving forward. All frantically hurry to their bikes leaving everything behind, creating quite a commotion. Even those who are playing cards to while away time, pack up and move their vehicles, and resume their game as the line will move forward again only after an hour.

And unfortunately for one when his turn finally comes, the engine refuses to start... another vehicle whizzes past, leaving the man stuck in a rut.

These queue-wallahs appear to be looking for the tiniest reason to vent their frustrations and irritation. And that’s probably why a quarrel erupts between the people and the army personnel. Some say it’s because the bikes were honking too much, while others say it’s because something was said against the army — the real reason is not known. But petrol will not be distributed anymore. This creates panic among all, and more frustration.

Fortunately things settle after around 20 minutes. People go back to what they had been doing for the last couple of hours or 12 or 48... relieved but still complaining about the long hours they have to wait knowing there is but no other option than this.