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Some time back I accompanied my Uncle to our family temple, where a pooja was to be performed by one branch of our extended family. We had been given to understand that the pooja would start at 8 a.m. Accordingly, we had started quite early from our homes. On reaching the temple, on time mind you, we found the premises devoid of any member of the family not even those who were local residents. Not even one from the branch that was responsible for the special worship of the day was present. I guess this is not surprising to many of us in India. Aren’t there countless jokes doing the rounds about Indian Standard Time being Indian Stretchable Time?? My uncle then made an observation,

”How much time we waste, by being punctual!”

He had hit the nail on the head. Those of us who are punctual end up wasting a lot of time because of the tardiness of others. We of the being on time fame, take pains to reach a place at the allotted time to find empty spaces staring back at us minus humans of any sort! Minutes and sometimes hours later in saunter the rest of the lot taking their own sweet time, without a care in the world!

This reminds me of an incident that occurred soon after my marriage. I had accompanied my husband, at the time a Captain in the Indian Army, to Ferozepur Cantonment. One day, my brand new husband told me that there was to be a Ladies Club Meet the following day. I had to be ready by 9 a.m. The vehicle for transporting the ladies to the Army Officers’ Institute would be at my doorstep on time and I was not to keep it waiting. It is the junior most officer wife’s honor to be the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped. The vehicle does a lot of crisscrossing due to this. Of course there are senior ladies who sometimes do away with this way of doing things. Then it would be the lady whose house is furthest from the venue who would be picked up first and who would be the last to be dropped.

Getting back to my anecdote, there I was on said morning, ready and waiting, with fifteen minutes to go for the scheduled time of 9 a.m. Having been trained under the Master, my father, who is a stickler for keeping time, it was child’s play to me. Time dragged on past 9a.m. but I found no vehicle at my doorstep!! When it was almost 9-45 a.m., I heard the roar of a vehicle and as it died down, the chatter of the ladies within.

“What happened?” was the first question I put to them.

“Nothing! We are on schedule” was the reply.

You bet I was miffed.

“Why??” I asked my husband when he came home for lunch.

“I wanted you to be on time as women take a long time to dress.” he replied nonchalantly.

“Oh yeah??”

“Civilians are not punctual as a rule!” Another matter-of-fact statement from the Lord and Master.

Oh Yeah???

I proceeded to educate him about this particular civilian who is his father-in-law, who would have the whole family ready and at the railway station at 7 a.m. sharp for a train leaving at 9-30 a.m. I am not exaggerating one bit! Mind you this was in a place and time when traffic jams were unheard of. I had stepped into my husband’s life with 23 years of forever being before time!!! Being on time (or before time??) was second nature to me!! It was in my blood, my very being!

Theeyil kuruthathu veyilahthu vaadumo??” (Loose translation: Can that which is born in fire wilt in the sun??). I asked him.

He got the point alright! To this day, he knows I would be ready at the exact time I have to be. Of course it still it didn’t stop him in subsequent years from popping his head in at regular intervals into the kitchen to remind me of the time like a cuckoo clock!! Sigh!!

Being an army wife punctuality ruled the roost for the next 20 years too. It became even more a part and parcel of me. It became my essence. Yet, now I am trying to unlearn it!

Back to civilian life, I find that being punctual is an utter waste of time, for me!! Perhaps as a kid I hadn’t noticed how much time was being wasted by being before time, what with books to read or imaginary games to be conjured up or even daydreams to be immersed in. As a grown-up when I reach some avenue to find vacant spaces staring back at me most all times, it annoys me no end. I could have finished doing this or that work, I tell myself. I could have read a few more blogs, written a new one or polished and perfected the one already in the pipeline. So on and so forth go my thoughts as I sit twiddling my thumbs. Of course now that it is the age of cell phones, I play games and listen to music. And while I thus sit, in meander the latecomers, leisurely. There is not even an iota of embarrassment on any of the faces who have kept others waiting. They stroll in at an unhurried pace and cheerfully ask,

Eppol vannu??”(When did you reach?). Obviously before you Mister!!

Kurachu neramayo vannittu??” (Been awhile since you have come?), Ha!! I can tell you that to the exact second Madam!!

I once landed at an auditorium at the time mentioned and I found the main doors closed. The cleaners were just finishing!! Sigh! Then there are occasions when you are invited to some houses for religious functions and find the hostess cleaning the front doorstep. If you are invited over for dinner, you better be sure and be late unless you want to find the whole house and its inhabitants in various stages of disarray!! ‘I’ll meet you at 5 p.m.!!’ says someone and after hours of waiting you wonder if she meant 5 p.m. the next day?? When you invite people over, they take their own sweet time arriving and will not even call to tell you they’d be late. Very few seem to respect time.

After some days of this, I knew I had to do something about all this. I started off by leaving my house a bit late so as not to waste any more of my precious time. If someone said, “Be there at 10!” I would be there fifteen minutes past. I felt guilty as hell initially, but found no cause for embarrassment. I have now moved on to going half an hour late. No problems have cropped up as yet. Dare I make the transition, the next step and make it forty-five minutes?? Hmmm… I have to give this some thought.

Reposted from shail-mohan blogs @ sulekha.com