Anyone with some experience of the Indian sense of keeping to time schedules will tell you that the term punctual-Indian is an oxymoron~an incongruous contradiction! For the vast majority of people in our country time is not a fixed point on the clock but a range. So when they tell you lets meet up for coffee at a designated cafe around eleven, they mean anytime between 1100h to 1159h…basically they will ensure it is not 12 noon!! Of course there are exceptions…our schools, the army and other forces, even some airlines and the new cab-services in our cities run with clock work precision; Dominos does keep to its 30 minutes deadline and we can even boast of super-celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan whose penchant for punctuality is legendary despite being a colossus in an industry where stars measure their worth by the amount of time their fans spend waiting for their arrival!
With my father and husband being army officers and having myself worked in the field of education, keeping to the time specified has become second nature for me; only over the years i’ve realised being an exception to the generally followed time-ethos comes with its own pitfalls. My husband and i have spent hours waiting for people who never arrive on time be it a meeting, a party or even a simple household appliance repair job; we’ve been to weddings and receptions at the time given to find the decorators putting the finishing touches and no sign of the hosts; hosts have given us those “why-on-earth-are-you-so-early” looks even as they smile and welcome us as the first guests at their get-togethers; there have been birthday parties where we were invited and told not to be late for the cake-cutting ceremony and on reaching found it all delayed by over two hours…it’s a long tiresome list.
However one incident that left a permanent imprint (or should i call it a ‘scar’?!) happened with me during my teaching days. For a morning function at school to celebrate our Independence Day, i was entrusted among other things with the task of arranging two special floral displays for the stage from where the guest of honour was to give his speech. For the sake of convenience i placed the order with a florist near our house since i had bought bouquets from him many a times and his skills and aesthetics i trusted. While discussing the theme and the flowers i wanted him to use, i constantly impressed upon him the fact that i needed them very early. Our function was to begin at 7am and so i repeatedly asked him if he was sure he could have them ready by 6.15. He reassured me that the time was not an issue as their day started at 4am when they went to buy flowers from the wholesale market and with supreme confidence he declared that by 6.15 he could have not just two but ten displays if i so wanted. Everything seemed in order till i landed at his shop at 6.10 that day and found him and his two associates still unloading flowers from their pick up van! To say that i panicked and flipped big time would be an understatement! A tirade ensued where i spewed my ire at his lack of professionalism and cursed myself for trusting him with the task. His reaction was a slight amazement upon seeing me before he barked out instructions to the other two and with super speed and skill the three of them started assembling the two displays i had placed an order for. Within 10 minutes he had them ready and placed in my car and accepting the payment from a slightly mollified me he made one parting retort…”Madam fifteen years i have been in the flower business but you are the first customer who gave me a time and then landed up at that time only!” The burden of guilt had been clearly passed on…speechless i almost felt i needed to apologise for upsetting his plans by my punctuality! An important lesson was learnt…you don’t need to apologise for being late but you need to be apologetic about being on time!!!