Eternal on Finite
a secretary of George Washington, excusing himself for being
late, said that his watch was too slow, the general's reply
was, "You must get a new watch, or I must get a new secretary."
If this were the case, most of us in Hyderabad would be changing
secretaries every week. Emerson said, "I could never
think well of a man's intellectual or moral character, if
he was habitually unfaithful to his appointments.'
of us have numerous experiences of meetings which started
late and ended even later, of staff that is rarely punctual,
of airlines which have forgotten that people have schedules
to keep, and of agitated hostesses not knowing whether to
begin with drinks and hold the snacks or start the snacks
and forget the late comers.
have become so bad that nobody expects a meeting or function
to start on time.
So people come in late anyway. Organisers anticipate it and
never take their own schedule seriously. As a result delay
has become a self-fulfilling prophecy! And those punctilious
persons who arrive on time - be it the audience or the speakers
- end up waiting impatiently. The chief guest or some other
worthy who arrives late is rarely mindful of the fact that
the delay of one hour on his account meant that 500 person-hours
are wasted. Our so-called VIPs actually think it is infra
dig to be on time!
This unpunctual and languid approach causes serious dislocation
in daily life. If a bus doesn't run on time, an extra half
hour provision has to be made to arrive on time. As nothing
is predictable, chaos reigns. I remember a train trip I made
from Brussels to a small village in the Netherlands. It involved
changing trains in Rotterdam and Utrecht and the hour was
late. I had only 40 seconds to change trains at Rotterdam,
and my train was already delayed by more than a minute at
the previous station, Antwerp. I explained my concern to an
attendant who assured me that the train would reach Rotterdam
in time, notwithstanding the delay in Antwerp. A few minutes
before the train reached Rotterdam, she came up to me, confirmed
that the train was on time, and gave me the platform number
to catch the train to Utrecht. If the little things in life
- the train or bus timing, the start or closure of a meeting,
a colleague's arrival at the office - are predictable, then
work becomes a pleasure and productivity rises dramatically.
Hyderabadis, are known for our generosity and warmth, but
not for punctuality. We are particularly afflicted by the
'chalta hai' attitude, and endless hours are wasted in delay.
But modern economy and habitual delays cannot go together.
And this is a problem government cannot fix. We need to value
our own time and that of others. Punctuality is indeed the
manner of the princes. We need to appreciate those who are
punctual, and frown upon latecomers. Peer pressure works wonders.
The Indian concept of eternal time will have to give way to
the idea of finite and valuable time.
"Better late than never" is not half so good a maxim
as "Better never late."