The time machine

Updated - March 26, 2023 11:28 am IST

Published - March 26, 2023 04:37 am IST

It is generally said in self-derision that we lack a sense of time. The restive audience that indefinitely awaits the chief speaker at a public meeting and the peripatetic men on the railway platform who have to stay there for hours on end in expectation of the train whose arrival is outrageously delayed, will doubtless vouch for this statement.

Psychologists define time sense as the ability to estimate time intervals or the time of day without information from clocks. Long before the advent of the wall clock and the time- piece when the slogan ‘time is money’ was not popular, the passing of time was marked by the sun dial and the like. Our forebears, noted for their homely wisdom, though denied formal education, could tell the hour of the day correct to the second, using a piece of twig under the sun. In my fledgling days, studies and play of the children were regulated by the peal of the temple bells. Farmers toiling under the hot sun could guess time of the day due to their habit of doing certain activities at the same time every day. Hence time sense was not alien to our people of the bygone era.

Nowadays, however, though wrist watches, and cell phones with clocks in them, are all the rage, many of us are not able to keep up our time schedule. It may perhaps be argued that it is not enough if only a few are meticulous about the value of time. You may be anxious to attend the office in time. After a hasty, steaming meal you make a beeline to the bus stop to catch the 9-30 bus with the shirt or coat flapping about you. The overcrowded bus filts by at 10 without stopping and you are marked late in the office.

Even if one has a vehicle and wants to be at the destination on time, one has to allow for traffic congestions due to processions, road blocks by political parties, unanticipated diversions by the traffic police, and vexatious waiting at junctions of main roads with automatic signals. Though metro rail facilitates quick commuting, travel to a metro station by road could be delayed if the traffic is snarled up.

Sometimes, laxity in properly estimating time intervals is tantamount to absence of time sense which results in embarrassing or difficult situations. An example of this is a passenger leisurely sipping his coffee in an airport lounge with a newspaper in his hand even as there is a blaring announcement that it is a last call for him to board the flight which is ready for departure

Here are a few examples from hundreds of such instances , to show that if others concerned do not cooperate, you cannot do anything at the proper time : waiting for a guest who promises to come for tea in 10 minutes, but turns up after an hour; the plumber who assures that he will be at your door step to set right a leaking tap on the dot of 10 in the morning, but shows up at 10 the next morning; the tailor who delays delivering finished garments due to a lackadaisical attitude.

I recall an incident that took place years ago in an office which underscored the importance of time. A senior officer, who was an obsessive martinet, was frequently disturbed by visitors and the files to be examined by him piled up on the racks. He arranged to put up a small wooden block on his table facing the visitor’s chair with the inscription “Time is precious to me”. One of the garrulous visitors was flummoxed on seeing the block and was retracing his steps. The officer, who was endowed with a sense of humour, waved him back and smilingly turned the block which read on the reverse “So it is to you, I am sure”. The visitor appeared pacified and was business-like from then on and the officer could deal with the files swiftly.

Time is seen in a particularly different light by Eastern and Western cultures, and even within each of them it assumes quite dissimilar aspects from nation to nation. However, it is universally acknowledged that effective time management is a key to success.

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