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Thursday, August 05, 2021

Indian Stretchable Time

Why we are always late and okay with it.

Written by Nonita Kalra | New Delhi |
February 5, 2012 3:45:25 am

Why we are always late and okay with it.

I hang my head in shame as I write this column. Because I am late. Late with the idea. Late with the thought. Just late. Late. Late. But the idea of highlighting the boorishness of Indian Standard Time or IST had seemed so obvious that I promised myself I wouldn’t write about it. And then it happened. Something so heinous that I had to change my stance. What is even more appalling is that it wasn’t one incident,it was just a series of events — over a lifetime — that resulted in the breaking down. And venting. About an Indian fact of life.

The funny thing is we have turned IST into a matter of national pride. So much so that we now use this term to ­explain the Indian psyche. It is a fitting description,a self-imposed one. So I know that most people won’t find any resonance with this piece. But I am writing this for the few people who are punctual and suffer due to others’ tardiness.

I learnt to be punctual from my grandmother. Wife of an army officer,she was the true General at home. She dictated that no one needed more than seven minutes to get ready — since that’s how long it took her. I spent a lot of my childhood seeing her time herself (she insisted on leading by example),taking my cues from her and tucking away secrets to getting ready at the speed of light. My nani insisted that by being on time,she was respecting you. Of course,she was the best dinner guest ever. She showed up early,demanded to be fed before midnight and generally tormented her Punjabi host’s lackadaisical habits.

From her,I also learnt that punctuality isn’t a family trait. In complete contrast is my other favourite person. My elder sister who is perpetually late. Otherwise perhaps the world’s most considerate person — she makes time for everyone,friend or foe alike — she can never make it anywhere on time. Her reasoning: she hates waiting. I tried to reason with her and explain that this aversion made others wait. For her. But she refuses to change her argument. To date,she turns up late for everything.

I delved a little further and tried to figure out if the refusal to wait was the real reason we couldn’t get India moving on time. But I think the explanation is not as naive as my sibling’s. I think it is a more proactive disrespect. We like making people wait. Why else would most people only start to get ready at the hour mentioned on the card as the expected time of arrival? As a result,people of my ilk actually have to apologise for being on time. As if we have committed a serious faux pas. I am often tempted to send a “sorry,I arrived on time” note instead of a “thank you for a lovely evening” one.

Our great “chalta hai” attitude has spread its tentacles so far and so wide that it has succeeded in corrupting everything. The same attitude is what keeps India from being an incredible country given our capacity for talent. Instead,it allows us to almost top every corruption chart. This is the same reason we need to cut corners,jump a red light and pay a bribe for all of the above. This is also what drives us to cheat on our taxes,we try and cut lines and grab power only because it allows us to have a red light on our car. Because that in turn would allow us more privileges like not paying toll to use the Sea Link. Our tardiness stems from the great Indian malaise of lawlessness. Simply put,we refuse to be on time because we like breaking the law. I think it gives us an adrenalin rush to cock a snook at life.

In all fairness,we don’t mind if people are late on us either. Either this comes from the great Indian belief of karma and afterlife — a kind of do-unto-others meets the afterlife. Or worse,the fact that we cannot even be bothered to be punctual even for our own events. Because we have lost the ability to draw the line. When it comes to breaking the law,we don’t even spare ourselves.

Nonita Kalra is Editor-in-chief,ELLE

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