Driven by the clock

That no two clocks agree and do not show the same time can’t be more humorously chronicled than by the comic genius P G Wodehouse. The opening paragraph of his delectable novel, ‘The girl on the boat’, reads thus: “...It was a fine summer morning. The hands of the Dutch clock in the hall pointed to thirteen minutes past nine; those of the ormolu clock in the sitting-room to eleven minutes past ten; those of the carriage clock on the bookshelf to fourteen minutes to six. In other words, it was exactly eight and Mrs Hignett acknowledged the fact by moving her head on the pillow. She always woke at eight precisely.”

When I was young and wrist watches were a rarity, my uncle, who had one on his wrist, would crane his head from the bus when passing by Madras Central station and would move the minute hand backward or forward to synchronise with what he called the Railway Time shown by the clock on the imposing tower. As soon as he reached home, he would stand on a stool gingerly to adjust the grandfather clock that tick-tocked and struck the hour after an agonising asthmatic hawk.

This family heirloom, to be wound every Sunday, would do fairly well excepting on certain days when, driven by mood swings (in addition to its pendulum swings), it struck erratically even beyond twelve. It stopped only when someone nearby shouted STOP in a commanding voice. In our joint family, where children were aplenty, my uncle taught us to read the time. And to the boys and girls attending high school, he tested their skill in geometry to find out the acute angle between the hour and minute hand when the time was 4.25.

Even those who have differing views on varying issues would readily agree  that no two clocks agree with each other. This problem must have been more acute when the time of the day was ascertained from a sun dial or an hour glass. Some are so fixated with the time  that if they are ever upbraided for their late arrival, even by five minutes, they will swear by their watch and refuse to look at any other clock shown as evidence. This is also true of weighing machines, especially the electronic ones.

Clocks are on their way out. The telephone, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, was meant to be used for communication and not conversation. But those heavy, bulky ones have all disappeared giving room to mobiles that function as  clock, camera, dictionary, encyclopedia, radio, calculator, planner, and much else in their untapped installed capacity.

Mahatma Gandhi said there is more to life than increasing its speed. Golda Meir had pitched in with her gem, “I must govern the clock, not be governed by it’.” Myself, a punctuality buff once,  commit only to the exact time of departure, that too as per my Casio Analog, and not arrival at the destination.

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