Punctuality...and our lack of it

December 10, 2007

As a child, I was brought up to be very punctual. If I was as much as five minutes late getting ready to go out, I would be scolded by my parents, and I learnt to be ready on time, though I was still the least punctual person in my own family, thanks to my tendency to forget something and having to dash back into the house for it just when everyone else was set to leave.

But all that changed after I got married. My father-in-law was a very punctual man, but the four sons that I met (the eldest, whom I met only 8 years later, is pretty punctual, I think) never seemed to have inherited this from him. If my family said they would leave at 4 pm, you could be confident that at some time past 6 pm they would finally leave, loudly blaming each other for the delay! I have one very cherished tape where the family sits and discusses the various ways and means of visiting a nearby tourist attraction…they spent so much time on the discussion (you go by car, I will go by scooter, the cousin can take a bus)..that they never went at all!

Nowadays, though, I find that the punctual person is a frustrated, unhappy person. My early indoctrination will not permit me to take things easy. If I have to be somewhere at 10.30 am, I want to leave at 10 am, and I find it very difficult that everyone who is supposed to come with me (spouse included!) turn up with various delays ranging from 15 minutes to half an hour or beyond…and on the way, KM will also realize that he has forgotten something and want me to go back home!

After having chewed bits out of him and refused, we will all go the venue…and find that NO ONE else has even turned up yet, and they all amble in up to 11.30 am! And one half of the couple, whose wedding anniversary it is, makes an entrance half an hour after THAT….

The net effect is to make me feel that there is no percentage in punctuality in India. If I am early, all that happens is, I sit endlessly, waiting…so the motivation is to be late the next time. But even as I think this, I know I can’t do it, as it will be an endless spiral….this time, everyone will find that 11.30 is quite enough, so the next time, they will be tempted to come later than that…each person will think, oh, at 10.30, no one will be there, so let’s go late…and that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if each person is not going to turn up on time, of course there’s going to be no one there!

We seem to somehow manage to catch flights, go to movies, and other such stuff on time..so why can’t we meet each other on time, as well? What is it that makes my spouse say, “It’s a social function, it doesn’t matter if we are late” (and he IS right because if we go to that reception or party on time, it’s going to mean our waiting…at one wedding reception, my friends and I went at the time stipulated on the card, and watched the hall being decorated…the newlyweds and relatives arrived about half an hour after we did!)…

It’s even funnier when other people don’t realize their unpunctuality. “I am NEVER late!” announced a friend, and arrived a blithe twenty mintues late…and not a word of apology, either…

I am trying to accept that I should not be uptight about punctuality, as other people will never be on time…but even then, it bugs me if I am told to be ready for a wildlife trip at 4am, make another person’s uncle wake up and drop him off at my gate at that time…and then have people coming an hour later! That poor uncle; if I had known, I would have let HIM sleep a little longer…!

What I realize I must do is to make these suave announcements, like “Oh! I never am on time!” and then blithely arrive later than anyone else for the meeting or appointment. Then I would have saved time, not wasted it waiting, and for a change, I can watch others getting hot under the collar!

Punctual and unpunctual people….ne’er the twain shall meet. The punctual will always come on time and wait and wait and get irritated, and the unpunctual will always mean well and yet keep on arriving late…

But the deadliest blow to my poor spouse’s delays was dealt by a speaker who, as soon as KM arrived to preside over the function, said brightly, “Now that the late Mr KM is here, we can proceed!”