Indian ‘Standard’ Time
Prapanj Ganeshan writes about Indians being late
IST = GMT + 05:30 + 00:30
That is how I have learned to put it. I don’t remember many a meeting, a function or a social gathering starting in time in India. Our Diaspora is also famous (notorious) for their reputation in arriving late. Pardon me if I am wrong. But before you do that, attack your conscience once to make sure you have been punctual for the most part.
Some rough statistics from my experiences suggest that about 50% of the events start 20 minutes late; about 25% start 25 minutes late; the remaining 25% are either ‘on-time’ or too late. This applies to friends meeting up for a party, people meeting up to go for a tour, dinner meetings, lunches, meet up with valentine, public speeches, any ‘penultimate’ deadline, internal deadlines, presentations and workout schedules that I have witnessed or been a part of. The corporate world also has a notion that Indians are late.
What I find interesting are the exceptions. Religious events, national events, flag hoists, etc. are mostly on time. Our public transport system is a matter of debate though. The temples start singing early mornings at specific muhoorthams, never late. Marriages are spot on. In that case, do we Indians maintain punctuality selectively? I believe most of you agree with my observations. If you don’t, you are the kind that is never late. Hats off to you! Rest of you Indians, continue reading.
In school everything was on time. I used to get hurt and insulted whenever I was late. Which means a lot of ‘disciplining’ went into trying to make me punctual. College fests and school day events were on time. It was the Chief Guest who was always late. Punctuality was given all the importance in the world. What happened to us once we got out of college? I have always been bad with time. So I can easily observe the transition with others :) Some serious research has to go into this as with anything else that is unexplained.
I have my own hypothesis. I don’t want you to get serious with what you read because this is just an individual’s musing. For someone to follow a habit, it has to stick to his values. Some habits may require a lot of persistent effort, like working out regularly. So, even if a kid is disciplined all his youth to work out regularly, the habit will stick only if the kid realises a need for the habit – to stay thin, healthy or strong. That said, for the majority of a country’s population to find it difficult to follow the habit of being on time, there should be a cultural factor. There could be other factors, but a cultural factor is for sure.
India, with its cultural roots in Hinduism, has a tendency to believe in after life/rebirth. I don’t want the non-Hindus to feel offended and come up with an argument that you don’t believe in after life, no matter what. What I mean to say is that most of our great-great-great-grand parents (since they were almost all Hindus) believed in rebirth so strongly, that the idea has descended down the generations and takes a part in our art, culture etc. “Dear, we couldn’t make it in this life. If rebirths are true, I would want to be your fiancé for 7 such lives”: all our ‘Indian’-woods have made movies with similar dialogues. Even a remote possibility of a second chance at living releases a great deal of pressure. Even if a possibility of second life is not intact, the absence of a guarantee that the life in hand is the only one we have, has its impact in the way we treat time. This applies to all the youngsters who failed to give it a good fight and rebel to live with their lovers and instead decided to go with the easy option of marrying someone convenient. Because they part with this tacit notion or feeling, that there may be a second chance, remotely, imperceptibly, inappreciably, faintly …
So, when you are on your bed taking your afternoon nap on a Saturday, you are not as compelled as people elsewhere are to get up at 3.00 pm, finish taking a bath by 3.30 pm, assess traffic delays to be 15 minutes and reach your friend at 4.00 pm as planned, for your evening tea. Instead, you push the waking up to 3.10, watch the birds, make a phone call, press your clothes, take a partial shower by 3.40, watch the TV for a while because you know you can reach your friend in 15 minutes, start at 4.00 pm, call him on your way, tell him that you will be reaching in 15 min, shout at the poor old grandmother who stumbled into your way, scorn the traffic management system in India and reach your friend by 4.30, only to find that he arrived only a couple of minutes back. You then proceed with no qualms.
Though rebirth is an equivocal concept in India today, it makes a lot of sense to strongly believe that the current life is all that we have. You will, then, definitely do your best and will be lucky if reborn. I said this to myself one day, “This is the only life you got man!” That day was good; I accomplished a lot and really pushed aside sleeping for a good cause.
I have one more point to prove my hypothesis may be right. Indians are good crisis managers-undisputed fact. You are good at managing crisis when you take things sportive. And you take things sportive when things are err… sports. And sport is when you know you got a second chance to do it better. So we Indians do not face tremendous pressure at the verge of accomplishment. We take it sportive…