All my life I have been made to wait and I still haven’t got used to it. To make matters worse, I married a man known for his punctilious ways. We now wait as a pair – sometimes patiently and sometimes otherwise. I guess we are something of an anomaly in a nation that is chronically late.
Our citizens are notorious for their late coming ways. The more powerful the person, the more likely his total disregard for extending the simple courtesy of landing up on time. Public events hardly ever start on time. Bus and train schedules have a mind of their own. We’d probably heave a sigh of relief if a train starts just 30 minutes from the original departure time. Hey that’s almost on time! On social occasions, people are more than fashionably late. And political events can be a nightmare because VIPs can make the audience wait for hours with no concern for their time or energy.
Strangely, even though we have scant regard for punctuality, it rarely deters us from flaunting our watches! We like them big, chunky and flashy, loaded with features we may never use. We may prefer splashing around at the shallow end of the pool, but our watch must be a Tissot Seastar 100 Chronograph Dive watch, equipped with a dive log, depth gauge and what not. But tell me if you are drowning in the sea, battling for breath and dear life, will you be exactly in the frame of mind to look at your watch?
The buss duss minute is the biggest joke circulating in town. Your AC is throwing tantrums and has started behaving like the country cousin of Niagra falls. You punch the technician’s number desperately and coo to him in your sweetest voice. Madamjee buss dus minute mein ayaa! Like a well chewed bubble gum, the ten minutes stretches into hours or even days, while you keep plucking your hair off the scalp with a – will he / won’t he come. Another oft used ploy is the Mangalwar trick. Go to any shop any day of the week and try asking for a newly launched packet of crisps. A true blue shopkeeper, will never admit that he is has no frigging idea about what you are talking about. With a stoic expression he will inform you – Mangalwar ko zaroor aa jaye gaa! You hope in vain but that Mangalwar never comes.
The other day I was travelling by the Metro. It was 12.30 in the afternoon and a lady was having this loud conversation on the phone for the rest of us to hear. She had a 1’o clock flight to catch and was still in the carriage deliberating between taking the Airport line or a taxi from Chhatarpur. She looked rather cool about it and it was me who was hyperventilating on her behalf. Before I could shove her off the coach, good sense prevailed and she got off at the next station. I missed the sight of the taxiwala driving his jalopy James Bond style. Damn!
Is our late-coming part of our DNA? Is it a cultural thing? Or is it the overall environment? It would be tempting to pass off this dilatory tendency to the fact that we are a tropical country where the heat and humidity induce a languor which negates urgency. Remember the Indian Standard Time jokes? "Expect everything and everyone to be late." Our tendency to inevitably land up in a quagmire of delays, shortcomings and chaos is even more evident when the Nation’s prestige is at stake. Remember the Commonwealth games? The organizers scripted its progress like a nail biting suspense. Water logged stadiums, collapsing bridges, the village mess: each day was greeted with a new catastrophe. The Will we - won’t we cloud hung ominously above our heads. Barely had we put the shame and scandal of the Delhi Commonwealth Games fiasco behind us, we were confronted with another embarrassing episode about the unpreparedness of the Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata for the World Cup cricket match.
Why is it that Punctuality as a virtue is so negated? Can anyone respect a person who has no respect for time? Is there a cure for this national affliction of procrastination?
Perhaps we are addicted to the thrill of the unexpected. The rush of adrenalin, when you drive at 180mph to catch a flight.....cook up excuses to explain your late coming ways to your boss (my landlord locked the gate and never came back / my cat ran off with my neighbor’s dog).....an unexpected chappal landing on the stage as you arrive 3 hours late....Priceless...how else will you experience such pleasures!
Or is it, that as a nation, we are deeply philosophical whose ways are beyond the comprehension of the clockwork precise others? When the present is nothing more than a fleeting moment through which future passes to become past, how can past and future exist when the present has no time?
If we can’t we measure time, why bother with time!
I think I’ll stick with that.