“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Yellow Line

In 2002 I went to Germany; my maiden visit to the West. I had to go to Bonn to attend a Workshop on organic farming.

Frankfurt airport. I hadn’t imagined the scale to be so large. Alone and awed, I got unnerved when I missed my baggage, a humble backpack. I had to catch a train to Bonn with a pre-booked ticket. I went hither and thither and without much further ado, was directed to the official who handled lost luggage.

I could see her, a Frau if I ever saw one, grim and blonde behind the glass pane. She was talking to a couple in front of her. I made the classic Indian blunder of blundering right up to the counter, opened my mouth when they shut their and looked at me. I said, “Excuse me, ma’am, I have lost my luggage, could you pl-” - I paused, because I could see the Frau turning her gun turrets on to me like a Frigate – and she fired her warning shot – ‘Arr you with thisss pepl?” I glanced at the young couple and totally lost, replied, “No, Ma’am, I- “– Frau turned to the couple – “Iss he with you?” “Naw, Naw” they cawed, with the typical shoulder shrugs and down-turned mouths and mocking expression in their eyes. “Then” – there was this inexplicable glitter in her eyes (maybe I am exaggerating) - I could see it coming – “then, you STAND OUT!” Totally flabbergasted, I looked around – out? Where? I was in the sea!

“There, (you primitive, pagan non-Aryan, black, likely an emigrant-sneaking-in-to-clean-our-toilets, piece of shit) BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE!”

And I beheld the Yellow Line for the first time in my life.

I have always liked things German; of course, the Nazis are an exception. I admired their discipline, their diligence, intelligence. I love Beethoven (I love the dog too), Boris Becker, Stefi Graf, Heidi Klum, Baron von Münchhausen , Grundig, Telefunken, Lieca, Mercedes and BMW. My dream car is VW Beetle. I had great respect for the Green Party and Petra Kelly. Max Mueller’s version of the Upanishads is my treasure; I always backed Germany next to Brazil in the World Cup. I still remember the West German Gerd Mueller’s picture, playing the 1974 World Cup. I love the name Beckenbauer.

The yellow line. I was reminded of our queues (?) in India. The innumerable incidents when I had to fight and make a scene, the time when I was threatened by a rowdy in Siliguri for asking him to step aside. Respect for Germans doubled in my mind. I hadn’t been to any other ‘civilized’ country before, so the yellow line was a great discovery for me.

Therefore I replied to the Frau all mortified and politeness – “My apologies, Ma’am!” She has no reason to know that Indians know only Red and Green – that waiting for others, respecting their time, giving them their due rights and opportunities - is unheard of in this country. Of course, politeness to foreigners (read non-Aryans – I am having a dig at you, you old bugger, Adolf!) is unknown to the Europeans too. All they knew is to rob and maraud the uncouth Asian animals. They never had the yellow line in the old days.

Later, in the airports and railway stations, I see the yellow line and stand behind it happily as if I am Herr Balachandran. I smoke at the end of the platforms, at the special area for smokers; I sit it the smokers’ compartment and enjoy my ride beside the Rhine to Bonn.

Yellow lines are necessary for orderliness. Yellow line has great possibilities! Yellow lines can be drawn in one’s life –‘Hey, look out!’ ‘Think again, buster, before making a move!’ One can draw yellow lines visible only to oneself. To obey the Yellow line, is to watch your step, buddy!

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 30-11-2010


  1. A very nice lesson in discipline. I know how awkward the looks are when you break the queue. I have witnessed that. A yellow line is necessary to keep ourselves on check.

  2. that was interesting... i had a simimar experience.. my flight to NY from new orleans was cancelled and i was trying to see if seats were available on other flights... there was a long line in front of the PAN AMECIAN airlines counter.. ppl ready to check in.. and all i wanted to know was whther there were seats available.. i was asked to stand in the line.. and i waited patiently and found out that they were over booked :) a snub... but rules nevertheless... :) i like the idea of a yellow line in our lives.. for relationships.. on social networking sites.. etc etc :D

  3. @Insignia: Just yellow, only yellow, never the red,step lightly on the brakes...

  4. @K: You got it! I was just using the yellow paint as a metaphor!

  5. Ya I remember you telling about the embarrassing moment.
    Reminds me of my goofs on my first visit to the West- forget it man we were all like "mandanmar Londonil".

    As for the German discipline and adherence to rules, and laws without the faintest of dissent, remember it was this trait that saw the foraging of Hitler , unchecked and unquestioned. The result is vivid.

    Balan you are right ,it is all orderly and immaculate anywhere in Germany , not like the haphazard and casual attitudes you see for instance in the US.

    As for the yellow line, in India - well we are an exceptional race.We can have our day only when we could elbow the man in front and restrict the man behind , even if that takes us no where. That is Indian ness , and the mark of true Indian,.Again the result is vivid.

  6. It's awesome that every human, no matter the country, has the yellow line rule. It makes it hard on a traveler in another country to learn what and where are their lines...Great lesson for all; we all see the metaphorical lines...I can just see you in this situation...Love it Balan..As always, you paint in technicolor....

  7. Our country definitely needs one; a thick yellow line at railway stations, bus stands, banks, post office, airports even at the humble 'thattukadai'.

    I can see the embarrassment on your face and the expression on the lady's.

  8. @Anil, Sandy, Arun: The literal yellow line lead to the inner yellow line; in fact, if we can draw the yellow lines inside us, there wouldn't be any need for the yellow paint!

  9. Wonderful experience. Could you get bach your baggage?

  10. I had some funny experiences there too. The first time I went there was in 1988,for a training.I was in the Pan Am flight from Bombay to NY,and so only few got down at Frankfurt.While I was out of immigration two plain clothes men stopped me.Only me among the whole lot!They took to me to a side room and started searching my handbag.The b..s even opened my India Kings pack and broke every single cigarette.Halfway through the search ,he found my stethoscope.It was then he asked me what I was doing there.He said sorry many times,but I remember he repacked my bag before leaving. I had really felt offended at the time,being the first time.It was a time when many Indians were going to Germany on some pretext and then seeking asylum,I came to know later.
    When I went last October,I flew in from Dubai.This time,there were some policemen at the very entrance.They were checking all passports,but when it came to me,they just let me pass through.I was the only one who was not stopped. I was the only Indian in the lot.
    I came to know later,that your legal rights start once you are inside the air port.
    I have come to realize that there are some reasons why we are treated in a different way.The first time,while I was travelling to Trier in a train,I met a co passenger from Thiruvalla. He had just come few months back and then managed to get asylum on some grounds,and enjoying life.They are given accommodation,language classes and monthly allowances which was more than my salary at the time.It was obvious the Germans had learned from their mistakes.

    We have learned to misuse every single rule in India.And they know,we are capable of doing the same there.Overall,I have found them as nice people. The older people are keen to compensate for the misdeeds of the past,and very courteous.The immigrants there,I found,are the worst and the most arrogant.

  11. So true. A yellow line or rather the glowing ember is what is needed..just step with awareness and responsibility in every path.

  12. yellow line demands efficiency on the part of those who draw them. In frankfurt I refused to be restricted by the yellow line(didnt see any, tho) cos the man at the counter was taking centuries over each boarding pass. i broke the queue, walked up to him and told him i'm suffering from a deadly disease and the wait was too much.the Air india's liaisons who were hovering around came running to admonish me for breaking the queue. he heard the deadly disease part and took over. it was smooth sailing after that - tho i felt rather foolish having to confess my illness.

    till this frankfurt experience, i thought inefficiency happened only in india.

  13. Good one Balachandran V!

    We were visiting Trivandrum zoo and we had to cross the roads. I guess I was about 12 years old then. Papa and the girls were crossing the road. While my sister held Papa's hand tight, I looked both sides and just ran to the other side.

    Papa and Akka took a few minutes to get to me. Then Papa took me back, showed me the yellow line on the road and said, "Listen, this is Life line! It has a meaning. You are never to step inside the life line. Stay out you are safe. It is a matter of life or death. Now come with me and I will show you the right way to cross the road".

    Then he took me by hand to the nearest Zebra crossing and then we crossed the road slowly - without running - while the signal turned on for pedestrian.

    Anywhere I see yellow line, I remember Papa's words very clearly. "It is a matter of life or death. Stay safe outside the limits of yellow line"

    Thank you for rekindling my memories. Now, I have a huge doubt - is there a pedestrian crossing light and zebra lines in front of Trivandrum zoo OR am I mixing up our visit to Delhi/Agra....

    Either way, the lesson learn stays clear. "Stay Safe!"

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  16. The yellow line is an interesting metaphor. In retrospect, I do not recall having ever, ever, crossed the yellow line - physical or metaphorical.

    In India, people do not think much of crossing lines of any hue. I have not travelled abroad too many times, but whenever I have seen people jump the queue, I also saw them being told off by those at the counter (unless grabbed and put back at the tail of the queue by the security personnel.)

    Perhaps rather than the sense of discipline, it is the ignominy you are heaped with in case you are caught that deters you from crossing the yellow line - physical or metaphorical. I suspect it is so in my case!

  17. @NriGirl: Yes, it could be Trivandrum Zoo. Pedestrian crossings are there at either ends. What you Papa told you is quite correct. Yellow line is lifeline. It is a caution, a moment of self-restraint, a reining-in of oneself before venturing further.


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