Punctuality is often considered to be a virtue. But in my experience, punctuality has been a curse and a bane, as I belong to that category of people who are punctual by nature. Though I am pretty easy-going about many things, punctuality is not one of them. Add to this the general Indian concept of Indian
Stretchable Standard Time and I have a ready-made recipe for palpitations.
It begins simply enough. Let’s say, I am meeting a friend at a pre-decided venue at 5.30 pm. I am at the venue by 5.15 pm. By 5.20 pm, I start looking out for my friend, even though there is still 10 minutes to rendezvous time. By 5.35 pm, I have worked myself into a frenzy of self-doubt—is this the correct place and time? By 5.45, I have doubts about the date and by 6.00 pm, I start having palpitations and wonder if there was even a meeting in the first place ! This is usually when the friend I am waiting arrives and says, ”Oh! Were you waiting for long? You poor thing. Come, let’s go and have something to eat. I’m starving.” There are a few variations to this theme, but this is how it happens most of the time. Without fail.
Over the years, my punctual nature has led to many funny incidents and some not so funny incidents as well. One of the more memorable ones involves the 21st birthday party of a friend to which I had been invited. Normally I avoid parties, but the guy I had a massive crush on at that time was going to be there at the party. So, I had to go too. I was studying in the University of Poona at that time and staying in the hostel there. My roommates, who knew about my crush, helped me decide on the outfit to wear, the shoes, the bag, the lipstick shade, the perfume … the works. One of my roommates even arranged for her cousin to drop me off at the birthday girl’s house, so that my hair would not get all mussed up.
So at 6.45 pm, I was outside the birthday girl’s house. My paranoia over being punctual made me check the invitation card before I rang the bell. “From 6.30 pm onwards”, it said. For added reassurance, I also double checked the date and the venue, which were also correct. Finally convinced, I took a deep breath and rang the bell. The door was opened by my friend’s brother, to … Suffice it to say that nobody was ready for the party (my friend’s mother was actually napping) and nobody actually expected any guest to arrive on time. My friend’s father told me very kindly that I should never take timings seriously and that I should always add 2 hours to the actual time of any invite ! I felt quite stupid and sat in one corner, while the family got ready for the party. By the time guests started coming in at 8.30 pm, I was feeling quite horrible. It didn’t help that I was introduced as that friend of the birthday girl, who took the timing on the invite seriously. Needless, to say I became the subject of many a joke, a nudge or a wink at the party, including that of my big crush. 😦
Contrast this with my 12th birthday party, wherein we were ready at the appointed time, but the guests sauntered in later, much later. The food had gone cold by then, I had convinced myself that nobody was coming and was on the verge of tears, when the first friend walked in. She was genuinely puzzled as to why I was so upset about her coming late.
Today, I accept the fact that not all people can be punctual or even like others to be punctual. This understanding came about only when my punctuality cost me a friendship. DMH was a very good friend at work. She had joined my organisation a few years after I did and we had kind off hit it off from day one. We would often go for tea or coffee after work or catch a movie or a theatre performance. Though she wasn’t the most punctual of persons, I managed. One day, a couple of years into the friendship, we were supposed to go and see a mutual friend’s ailing father-in-law. Though we had agreed to meet in my office room at 6.00 pm, DMH did not come till nearly 6.45, by which time I was feeling quite edgy. When I remarked to DMH that she was late, she burst out and said, “Why are you so obsessed about time? You are totally stressing me out with your punctuality. I get stressed out each time we have to go out somewhere, knowing that you will be looking at your watch all the time. You know what, you need to lighten up. You have an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) about punctuality.” To say that I was shocked about stressing someone else out with my punctuality came as a bit of a surprise, because I thought I was the one getting stressed out. Anyway, things were never the same again between us after this incident, and we slowly drifted apart. Today, we are on nodding terms and have a professional relationship at work.
It isn’t easy being punctual or retain sanity in a world where most people do not respect your time—appointments are forever getting rescheduled, trains are running late, buses are arbitrarily cancelled, deliveries are delayed, people turn up late for appointments without even an apology… Over the years, I have learnt to relax about punctuality at least where others are concerned. And with practically everyone having a cell phone these days, delays get communicated leading to stress-free and palpitation-free rendevous. But as far as I am concerned, I still arrive on time for meetings, as well as weddings and parties (that is, if I deign to go for them at all), or any other function.
I often wonder why I treat time and punctuality as something carved in stone. Maybe I was born with the punctuality gene (if one can even believe that there is such a thing). For you see, I was punctual even in birth—I was born on the date given by the doctor to my mom. 🙂