“When’s the wedding reception?” asked my husband, looking anxiously at the clock in the dining room. He was leaving for Palakkad that night and I had told him we had a wedding reception to attend before he left.
“Between 7 and 9,” I said, giving the invitation card a quick once-over. “But it’s already 7.30! My train’s at 10.30 and the hall so far away!” He said in distress, his plaint sounding like the lyrics of a wistful song.
“It’s only 7 or thereabouts,” I reassured him. “That clock’s almost half an hour fast.” “What do you mean, ‘thereabouts’, ‘almost’?” Now he was annoyed.
“Well, I meant ‘approximately.’’’ I became defensive, for I had touched a sensitive talking point.
“Anyway, this clock says 7,” he shouted in relief, having walked to the drawing room and glanced at the old reliable clock there.
“What? That one says 7?” Now it was my turn to get alarmed. “Then it must be past 7.30. That clock has been going slow of late. I think its battery’s down,” I explained, going into the kitchen to get yet another opinion. “Ah, this one shows 7.30. The kitchen clock is ten or fifteen minutes fast,” I announced.
He looked exasperated. “A house overflowing with clocks and such confusion about the time!”
We have six clocks in our house and each one gives a different time. Add to that three idiosyncratic watches, and we have nine timepieces that show nine distinct times, not one of which is the Indian Standard Time. One clock shows a mystery time, having lost its hour hand, and has been banished to the nether regions. It languishes, face down, under a table.
Another, shaped like a compass in a ship’s wheel, hasn’t been working for years but continues to hold its position on the wall in my son Amar’s room by virtue of its looks and the practical purpose it serves of keeping Amar’s favourite calendar of Indian Air Force planes, over which it is suspended, from hanging lop-sided. Whenever the topic of the temporally-challenged clocks in our house comes up, I’ve tried telling my husband the weak joke that this clock at least shows the correct time twice a day, but, like Queen Victoria, he isn’t amused.
As for the clock in the kitchen, every working woman will agree that this particular timepiece has got to be at least 15 minutes fast. That’s the only way things get done on time, though, of course, you aren’t fooling anyone, including yourself, for you reduce 15 minutes after every frantic glance at the dial. These regular mathematical exercises are good for you; they act as a quick cerebral pick- me-up before you go to work, brain now ticking along nicely.
The one in the front room was the only disciplined clock in our multifarious collection, the one that showed the correct time, till its battery let it down. The clock in the bedroom became temperamental ever since the nail on which it hung let it down and it fell from the wall. It shows perfect time for a few days, then stops stubbornly. A few thumps on its back, and it’s back at work.
Two watches need their batteries changed and the third is a freebie that believes it is Usain Bolt, surging ahead and clipping a few seconds off the time at every run.
“Let me check the time on my mobile,” I said, in a late flash of inspiration. “It’s always four minutes ahead.” A swift calculation finally nailed the time to be 7.15 pm, or 19.15 in mobilespeak, when we set out, card in hand to help locate the hall we’d never been to before. It took us almost an hour to reach the place. We found we had to clear a huge iron gate that was surprisingly closed. A security guard who opened it told us to go in and keep going. The gates clanged shut behind us.
“Strange man, can’t he keep the gates open on such an occasion?” I commented.
“Maybe he likes the exercise,” my husband remarked. After going past three security guards, the fourth one, standing near a ghostly, deserted building, volunteered the information that this was the place.
“But...” A sudden doubt made me check the card. “Isn’t today the 7th?” I asked my husband in a small voice. “No, it’s the 6th. Or is it?” Now he looked confused. “I should check my train ticket once more,” he mumbled, reversing the car. Looks like we can’t read the calendar either.
A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org