The fault in our timelines

yours or mine?

The fault in our timelines

The first time I had an hour-long meeting with my American professor, I became upset when he left the meeting after just 15 minutes. I complained about it to my husband, then my boyfriend. “I was there at 10.45 am for the 10 o’clock appointment and the man just left at 11!” I said heatedly.

My man stared at me. “But you were 45 minutes late!”

“So what?” I asked. “It’s not as if I missed the entire appointment!”

That event set the tone of our relationship. Till date, my husband and I are on two different time zones... as are Indians with the rest of the world.

The old joke used to be that IST was not Indian Standard Time, but Indian Stretchable Time. As we all know, we Indians tend to be extremely laidback. It is not always laziness or a reluctance to do something, it is just the reluctance to do something right now. The task will get done... eventually.

We drive the rest of the developed world, especially countries like Switzerland, Japan, Germany and America just nuts with our ideas of dealing with time. There is even a theory about this behaviour.

The theory is basically this: while others may think that time is finite — it has a beginning and an end — we think that time is infinite. Our time is not a line, but a circle, without a beginning or an end. So why hurry and do something on time? We’ll get to it, have patience, it’s not earth-shattering!

We also believe in fate arranging our life for us, which conveniently absolves us of having to be proactive for the most part. After all, what will be, will be, and what won’t, will never be. So why bust a gasket?

If you want to understand this better, picture a man returning home from the market on his bullock cart. He gets on, guides the bullocks onto the right road... and his work is done. They know the way home, and amble down the dirt road at their own pace. The driver can even fall asleep. On the other hand, he can whip them into a frenzy and get home a little earlier. But why hurry? Whatever is waiting for him will still be waiting for him, if it is meant to be. If not, nothing he does will ever make it happen.
Having this attitude to ‘time’ and ‘life’ is great... as long as you live by your lonesome self. But when you have to interact with others who don’t have the same philosophy as you, things go out of whack. This was what happened with globalisation.

Imagine slouching down a hot deserted road at midday slowly and half-asleep, and suddenly a huge black dog jumps out of a gali, baying insanely in your face — that was the kind of rude shock that we got. Work no longer meant ‘Do it when you feel like it’. It meant ‘Have it done, and done well, by the day and time the customers want it done’. It meant a whole new way of thinking.

But instead of just becoming more time-conscious, a dichotomy has risen in our way of thinking, depending on whether we are the doer of the task or the doee. We now expect others to adhere to their timelines, while we are still ambivalent about our own. “How could so-and-so not finish the task I gave them?” we fume, while, when it comes to our work, we grouse: “What does he mean, do it by the deadline, or else?”

The way we deal with the deadline crisis is peculiar. We put off the task and drag our feet for as long as we can, and then hurry to complete it. Since such haste never produces good results, we know we’re delivering a bad product. So there we are, putting finishing touches at the nth hour, and as anyone who has tried to put on lipstick while driving on Indian roads knows, it never works out great!

However, not all of India is going berserk trying to learn timeliness, thank goodness. The government sector, like a massive titanosaur, continues to dwell in a deadline-less world, as do some private businesses. Ever had a tailor deliver a well-stitched blouse on time?

Meanwhile, at our home, we’ve developed ways of dealing with timelines. These days, when I say I need just five more minutes to get ready, my man just asks, “Your five minutes or mine?”

Now, all we have to do is teach the Swiss, the Japanese, the Germans and the Americans to ask: “Your time circle or our timeline?”

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