Monday, September 24, 2007

On Punctuality: the virtue of the bored.

Better three hours too soon than a minute too late- Shakespeare said it and I practiced. Well, apart from some exceptional occasions ,I am never late for classes, appointments, movie shows, functions and parties. But these days, I am having doubts at this habit of being punctual. I know, it is difficult to get out of this carefully practiced routine but then I think I am destined to get friends, colleagues, subordinates and even spouse who do not care for keeping time.
The world is divided in two groups of human beings – those who will watch preparations for any function, mike being set for a meeting and carpet being brushed ..will beat the cleaning staff in reaching office…. will conveniently double check all seats in a lecture hall before settling for one and those who will catch the last bogey of local train every day without fail….apologize to colleagues for keeping them waiting, will enter office every morning just when the attendance register is entering boss’s chamber , will reach home late and say almost genuine sounding “sorry” to their wife/husband and will repeat the cycle again the next day. Incidentally it is for the first group that they put so many poster ads at Railway stations and bus stops …these people, invariably early to catch a train/bus , find all the time to read the posters and even point out spelling mistakes in them. The other group is the responsible for the inventions of lace free shoes, escalators and munch-on-the -way snacks. Being fair to the two groups, I don’t think it matters much in which group you are. Both have a fair share of successes and failures. If a punctual person like me starts a day with boredom of waiting for others to appear on the scene, habitual latecomers suffer from last minute anxieties. While in schools, colleges normally it pays to be on time , in social and even in official gatherings , it is fashionable to arrive late no one important is ever present to appreciate punctuality.

So without any value judgments, without any decision of right and wrong why do I choose to arrive on time every morning knowing well that other car pool colleagues will be still pouring milk over their corn flakes? I guess it has to do with the habit. I can’t bear being late and on exceptional circumstances when I am late, I feel bad. My college friends once asked me jokingly if I was even born premature .Somewhere inside me, I still feel that lack of punctuality is a theft of someone else's time. If I have made an appointment with you, I owe you punctuality, I have no right to throw away your time, if I do my own. Lack of punctuality is a lack of respect for others and also is a violation of the Golden Rule that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. How I wish they too shared my philosophy in this regard! Talking of habitual late comers, I have a bagful of them in my office. They perhaps curse their luck that I am that obstinate boss who insists on punctuality when for years together they were happily practicing KST-Kolkata Standard Time ( i.e. start from home at the time when you are expected to reach.) Amazing part is that these gentlemen and ladies will expect (a hope beyond hope) that trains and trams will be dot on time, buses will be ready for them the moment they step out and there will be no other problem and hence conveniently give themselves few more moments. Not even evidence of the contrary for decades can alter their trust in others’ punctuality or make them practice their own. Mind you, these habitual late comers are the first one to point out that people in bank/post offices are never on time. That the other officer is not on seat and hence the work suffers. The same principle goes for submitting replies and returns. In putting up files and meeting with deadlines. In fact, in most cases deadlines are long dead when the work is finally finished. But then late coming has its own virtues too. It encourages lateral thinking and creative writing. I wish I could compile the creative excuses I get from my staff for being late. In my previous office, once I unexpectedly asked for attendance register of an IT savvy section and found about 6 people missing. They were asked to show cause and voila! I found another use of IT….promptly came 6 identical applications for condoning late coming all for the same reason – child at home met with some accident. I called the group again and asked if they share the sunsign as well… Or if aliens have attacked the children of Kolkata on the fateful day. Another very interesting encounter was with a Bengali gentleman who was irritated with me for expecting him to be on time. He with all generosity once explained me in great details, how he gets up very early ,reads newspaper , goes to fish market to buy fresh fish, which will be then cooked by his wife and will be served in due course and only after a hearty meal (like a worthy bhadralok) he can start for the office . He then asked me in an agitated tone that how can I expect him to be earlier than his usual time when he has so many morning rituals to fulfill? Well, I gave up.
Still bound by my own habits, I religiously put crosses in attendance registers, shout at my husband for always being late and make faces at my car pool colleagues.
I know all arguments, all fussing- is a waste…they can’t change their habit as I can’t change mine. So I am destined to arrive at the time of mike-testing and dusting of chairs and they will run over the stairs with shoelaces loose. They tell me "Better late than never……………” And I reply back “……… but even better- NEVER BE LATE”


Advait said...
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aagantuk said...

I liked the way you reconciled with the fact that some people are habitually late. A quote to make you ponder a bit more "Punctuality is the virtue of the bored".