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When time is not of the essence


Growing up, we learn so much about punctuality, but as adults, most of us turn a blind eye to its value

“If you want guests to arrive from 7 p.m., get 6 p.m. mentioned on the card as this is India where most people prefer arriving late, certainly an hour or even later than the appointed time.” I couldn’t agree more as I overheard this suggestion by a young employee at a printing press to an NRI couple finalising the wedding cards of their son. I was there to fetch the business cards I had ordered, and he zestfully invited my comment on his advice.

A few days later, I was reminded of the same scene as I arrived to attend a book launch at the exact time given on the invitation card. Was anyone there? Just the author and her team who were desperately waiting for the guests to turn up. Shortly, as one elderly uncle landed, he laughingly told the author, “Had you mentioned 3 p.m., instead of 4 p.m., many would have been here already.” However, most guests arrived by 5.30 p.m. followed by the chief guest, a politician, who arrived by 6 p.m. and the event finally commenced, and early birds like me and the uncle heaved a sigh of relief.

It’s an irony that growing up, we learn so much about punctuality right from school, but as adults, most of us turn a blind eye to its value. Race your mind to that day when you waited for someone’s arrival long past the appointed time. Did their constant promise of just another five minutes more not bother you? By the way, latecomers are always armed with a plethora of excuses, starting from traffic jams.

Having lived in Switzerland for three years for my graduation, I had punctuality infused in my blood. Hence on my return to India some years ago, I would always arrive early or at least on the dot for any events or meeting. I soon realised that most often, no one cares for the appointed time. Hence very soon, I started asking, “Will you be there at Swiss 10.30 a.m. or 10.30 a.m. IST? I fail to recall if I ever got any reply with a Swiss confirmation.

What many latecomers do not realise is that their habit can rob them of something valuable someday. Take an interview, for instance, or catching a flight which also reminds me of the last and final call announcements for late passengers. I still remember that day not long ago at the Delhi airport when a middle-aged woman seeing her flight in push-back mode kept shouting at check-in officials, “The plane is still there, let me go …” It created a scene, but one of the officials confidently told her: “You should have been at the boarding gate on time. Now you are too late to catch this flight.”

On the other hand, there are also those who are very particular about time. In my hometown Amritsar, I know an owner of a theatre whose plays always start on time, whether the chief guest arrives or not. My mind retains that scene when a local political leader who was invited as the chief guest arrived when curtains of the play came down. I later learned that the leader was not happy about it, asking the theatre owner why was he invited if the play had to start without him, failing to understand that one has to “respect time”.

Nearly a decade ago, when my school mates and I were busy shopping on our last day in Singapore after a week-long convention at a local university, our bus driver left us as we did not return to the bus at the time given by him, though we were late hardly by two or three minutes. We ended up shelling out dollars out of our pocket as we missed the free ride back to the university’s hostel. It was of course a lesson which certainly made me an early bird forever, and I know being one has many advantages in


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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:28:43 AM |

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