(Published in Deccan Herald on 10 Sep 2016)
Indian 'Stretchable' Time
Brig A N Suryanarayanan (rtd)
When my younger daughter got married, the son-in-law followed stretchable time.
Captain S Ramanujam, our instructor at the Academy asked us once of the number of ways to do a thing. Our answer was: ‘Simple, sir, the right way and the wrong.’ He corrected us: ‘No, there is a third: the Army way!’ He was right; in the army if a time is mentioned, it means five minutes earlier.
Having been trained and later served for 35 years, I strictly follow it. In the army HQ, my boss would tick off even delayed seniors that while their time may not be important to them, his was to him, even if he were to be reading Blitz.
Time started having an entirely different connotation on retirement. A number of youngsters in the company I briefly worked for would always be late for the morning briefing, and when questioned would ask rhetorically if the company had lost anything. My answer was that while the company may not have, each of them had lost some of their character.
I am told that in the Indian Railways, till a few decades back, a delay of upto 30 minutes was counted as ‘on time!’ If a train was likely to be delayed further, they would let the others following to pass through, so that their statistics on timeliness would show only one train delayed on that route! I do not know if it is still so.
Once, in Ambala Cantonment, I had gone to a tailor shop to collect children’s clothes but the particular tailor was away. The owner told me: “Sahib, Pappu paanch minute ke liye baahar gayaa hai, dus minute mein wapas aa jaayega. Aap bees minute baith jayiye! (Sir, Pappu has gone out for five minutes, will return in 10, you wait for 20 minutes!)”
More was in store for me after my daughters grew up and boys would take them out for movies. I invariably questioned them on their expected time back and if they were late by even five minutes, God help them. I probably didn’t know then that when my younger daughter got married, the son-in-law followed stretchable time.
On asking what time to expect them, he would say 4 o’clock but leisurely arrive close to 5 o’clock. After a while, he started saying ‘four-ish’ and I had to say that four-ish isn’t a clock time and ask if it was my 4 or his! He understood and my daughter, too, drilled into him about punctuality. Now, he is more punctual than I!
At the parties in our colony, many guests would invariably be late; the excuse of one Brigadier is that his wife felt, he would thus have one or two drinks less, unaware that he could make all his subsequent drinks double or large! For another Major General, it would be the wife delaying in dressing up. For yet another couple, it was always an unexpected visitor landing up, even if that were untrue. And, that is how Indian Standard Time becomes Indian Stretchable Time!