Tag Archives: bullying

The Queue: A Story About Loud Music & (Un)civility

Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience

My article on cancel culture was published a couple of months back. It highlighted situations in which private disagreements sometimes lead to permanent breaks in relationships. Using sources as diverse as the Ramayan and the Mahabharat on one hand, and the Marshall Plan and President Lincoln’s famous Civil War speech on the other, I came up with strategies for being gracious and generous on one hand and principled on the other, even under trying circumstances.

But, what about situations that are public rather than private? When ignoring the issue would be unfair?  What is a person of goodwill to do? The below is an exercise in learning to answer such questions. 

Late in the afternoon of the first working day of the New Year, I visited the post office to mail some letters. I was surprised by the long line that stretched way out on the sidewalk. The social distancing mandate was only part of the reason for the long queue. The other was that there were many people who needed to return packages (gifts?) received over the holidays.


Seeing that it would be a while before she would reach the front of the line, the woman standing in front of me (I will call her Wanda) requested that I hold her spot while she went to her car to get her jacket. I readily agreed.

By the time Wanda returned, more people had joined the line behind me. As previously agreed, she got in line ahead of me. Seeing this, the elderly woman who had joined the line after Wanda left asked her if she was joining the line. It was her civil way of making sure Wanda was not jumping in unfairly into the line.

“I would never do something like that,” Wanda proclaimed with a smile.

“She was here before I got here,” I clarified.

All three of us nodded in goodwill, reassured that the queue remained inviolate.

Ill will

Soon after this conversation, Wanda started playing music on her phone. She did not have headphones and so the sound wafted into the air around her. She swayed gently to the song.

Twenty minutes later, the line had moved. Wanda and I were now just inside the front door of the post office. I heard loud music and didn’t think much of it… maybe it was playing on the PA system.

But, the music seemed to get more shrill and impossible to ignore. Looking closely, I soon realized that the loud music was actually coming from Wanda’s phone. Either she had turned up the volume, or being indoors, the sound was reverberating a lot more than when we were standing outside.

After a few minutes, it became quite unpleasant. The sound was tinny and scratchy, impossible to ignore. The line was still advancing very slowly.

“Is the music playing on your phone?” I asked Wanda. When she confirmed this, I continued, “Could you please turn it down?”

“It is gospel music and it inspires me,” she said.

“That’s great,” I said with a smile. “Could you please just not play it so loud?”

“What, you don’t like gospel music?” Wanda was becoming aggressive.

“I am not familiar with it,” I admitted.

“Well, I am going to keep on playing it. You can go to the back of the line.”

“I am not going anywhere.” I responded.

“You have some nerve!” she insisted angrily and said it a couple more times for good measure.

I admit to being quite taken aback by Wanda’s response. A person who had, just a few minutes earlier, professed her commitment to civic rules and order, was now being quite rude. Moreover, she was being unkind to the very person (me) who had spoken up for her.  

I looked away. Having made my point, I was not interested in continuing the disagreeable dialogue.

Civility restored

Amazingly, after a few more minutes, Wanda turned down the decibel level of her music.

My turn came soon after. My business at the post office completed, as I walked out, I happened to make eye contact with the woman behind me… the one who had asked Wanda about her place in the queue. Despite her mask, I saw a smile in the crinkled edges of her eyes and an almost imperceptible nod of her head. I felt validated. 

This was one of the rare times when I took a public stand in an attempt to check an inconsiderate person. I might have expected a racing heart and clammy hands, especially after Wanda’s outburst. Instead, I felt calm both during and after the brief exchange. 

I am glad that, rather than chafe in silence, I raised my voice against sound pollution. It was a small act undertaken in the interest of preserving civility in the public space.

Civic Responsibility

As an immigrant of almost forty years standing, I have a particular appreciation of the orderly society in which I live. It would be fair to say that through the decades I have been a student and observer of what it takes to build and preserve such a society. And, I daresay I have tried to do my small part in that by being a civic-minded participant in the communities in which I have lived. This has taken the form of volunteering in the local school, returning library books on time and picking up litter (when I come across it, which is fortunately quite infrequent), and writing the occasional letter to the editor of the local newspaper. 

The storming of Capitol Hill on January 6 has added a whole new urgency to the topic of the responsibilities that accrue to citizens of a democratic country, and what each one of us can and must do to preserve and extend democratic norms. 

By itself, my experience in the queue was a very trivial one. But it is not difficult to imagine the chaos, disorderliness, and just plain meanness that would result if incidents like that were to multiply millions of times over. I think it brings out the importance of upholding bedrock principles and not letting them be eroded by loud-mouthed bullies. Maybe we would not be where we are today if Trump had been checked early on. 

As Dr. King put it,

Those who do nothing while witnessing injustice and wrong-doing do worse than those who commit acts of injustice.

Have you been in a situation where you took a stand? How did it feel? Did it make a difference?

Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and cofounder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu. Her book, “Radical Spirits,” tells the deeply-researched story of Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor. 

imagecredit: noisy neighbor by Gan Khoon Lay from the Noun Project


What Does the Bully Want?

When I was a teenager, I used to get bullied a lot. My bullies were relentless. I could barely be in a class with them or pass them by on my way to get some water and they would seize the opportunity to say something hurtful or make a face, a smirk – hard to catch and pin down as a crime, but easy to cause pain. They would call me names that took me years to live down and overcome. They were charming, had their own circle of friends, popular enough, smart and good enough in what they did that no one called them on their cowardice. The new student lived as an outsider for many years in their classrooms. I learned how to fight against them but I also learned how to be angry. I do not think I have ever really forgiven them but that is my own personal tragedy and responsibility. I have been thinking a lot about those bullies these days.

Barely a month into office and the country is in turmoil and many people have been harmed already including some Muslim worshippers in a Quebec mosque who were killed by a white, anti-immigrant, Trump-supporting young man a few weeks ago. More harm and hate still waiting to be unleashed by this bully and his supporters. Very few from his circle will want to earn his wrath by opposing him openly or otherwise. The latest ban on people from some Muslim countries means that children and fathers and mothers and grandparents and siblings will be separated from each other, perhaps indefinitely, and many who had built lives for themselves here will have to leave it all behind along with pieces of who they believed they were in America. The bully will not stop here, I know. More harm will be caused, people will be hurt and while the stock markets hold up, his followers shall praise him for his acumen in the business of running a country. Until when? What catastrophe awaits us at the end of this narrow path of his policies that have obviously not been thought through? The bully likes to make a splash. Like a badly paced runner, the new president in his barely still slept-in bed in the White House is raging forward like a blind bull in America’s china shop of immigration health care and climate change.

No country can live in isolation anymore though, and unfortunately these policies will slowly trickle down and affect the entire world. Our ozone layer is shared as are our borders and our waters and our air and our peoples. No wall will save us from the degradation of these essential commodities. What does the bully want? The bully wants attention. The bully wants power. The bully wants to feel popular. The new president of my country is getting enough of all of that and his will is bolstered to move fast and quick and brashly on. Human decency in the form of protests marches and petitions gives us hope but I worry still. I am now a grown woman. My memories of my bullies are almost three decades old. In many ways I am now the woman I want to be, but inside I know that I will always carry the scars inflicted by them. That is exactly what I fear for this country and the world.

Chandra Ganguly is a MFA student at Bennington College. She writes about the meaning and loss of identity and issues around gender and culture. She lives with her family in Palo Alto, California.