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Are Indians time insensitive?

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Remember Maggi commercials and the eternal promise of making noodles in 2-minutes ? I adore the commercial yet have never met anyone who claims to cook it in 2-minutes. It got me thinking – Are we really not concerned about time?

Being late and delaying stuff was a part of growing up for me until I started working and visiting places. Seriously, it is disheartening to see many of us regardless of education, cast, creed and other exceptions are always delaying things. We always say bas, 5 min aur!

The irony is that we are very consistent throughout every sector in being late and procrastinating things and more often than not being proud of it. There is even a FB group dedicated to us for that!

Better Be Prompt!

Let’s see how our various sections of our society share this “proud” habit.

Administrators (aka politicians/judiciary etc.)

Oh yes! All of us criticize them. And why not, after all they set the example for us. Whether it’s implementing the promises in manifesto or setting up infrastructure in rural India delays are ubiquitous. The vicious cycle of babudom and the time taken in transferring files from one department to other has time and again proved to be detrimental for our country.

Consider our “awesome” judiciary system in Kasab’s case. To show you a small example of how much we can waste time, Kasab’s trial was delayed over and over again and it cost (and still is!) around Rs. 9 lakh per day. People might argue there was an investigation etc. but hey you know what, he was the guy murdering in cold blood and that has been captured on video. If this isn’t an example of wasting time to the extreme then what is?

Indian Businesses:

I was in Bangalore this summer and trust me I didn’t meet a single small business worker who had an urgency to work, to perform and to be as productive as they can. While at home, I waited for the plumber, the electrician, the phone and Internet connection guy. Outside the home I waited in banks, post offices, and even doctors’ offices. So much so that it often took restaurants about 30 min to serve food! I don’t know how to quantify the time wasted and business lost in these activities but I hope they do the math soon and fix the system on which they do business.

Professionals:

I am sure we all have come across in our offices people who stay late at night. They typically come in at 11am and leave around 11pm. I remember how I was frowned upon as I left office at 7. The truth is for working efficiently and timely you shouldn’t take 1 hour lunch break, couple of 30min coffee breaks, and smoking breaks. And yeah, there are TT, gym and newspaper breaks too!

What’s really surprising is that these are the people who complaint about how their janitor wastes time and why their maids is always late. Moreover, every appraisal cycle these people have the most negative feelings about their bosses and cohorts because of their perception that they stay late but are not paid for! Reality check: It’s important to work productively rather than stay in office! The amount of time professionals waste has been affecting the corporate clients and often results in losing one.

We, the common man:

I was getting ready for a party which was supposed to start at 8. My friend started mocking me and said that I am a moron because I will be arriving on time!!! It’s a part of our culture to be late in parties and informal dinners.
Reason? To show-off that we are important, busy and have a hectic life. That’s sick because it means wasting your time as well as not paying respect to others. I have seen people in United States and how they manage probably every hour of their day and make the best use of it. Being late is considered offensive and irresponsible and rightly so. Our habit of not respecting time has made us insensitive to time. Politicians and other administrators exploit this habit and procrastinate realizing that we are use to it.

The story doesn’t end here. Students are late for classes, teachers are late for lectures, dealers are late in supplies, public transport is consistently late, even emergency doctors are late! The only thing that is on time is procrastination.

While on one extreme we see people loitering around aimlessly or engaging in conversation with total strangers on the other we see people jostling and pushing at bus stops and vegetable markets, as if their time is most precious in this country and it’s absolutely critical to reach their destinations or completing their tasks in record time. The contrast in attitude towards time is no different from the other spectacular disparities that are so stereotypical of Indian life. However, I think we should soon get rid of the famous concept of Indian Standard Time (IST) or it going to all pervasive and make our children even more time insensitive.

Whats more frustrating is that dealing with IST in daily life is impossible because your life is so intimately dependent on people around you. Both at work and outside, I find myself alone and helpless, racing beside the vast majority that slowly marches on at a completely different pace.

Grow up India, it’s not uber-cool to be late!

  1. Safiya Sires Khan says

    As a American woman, who's married a long time to a indian man, I refer to all my friends, doctors, and other appointments he has made me late too over the years as "sorry, he's on Indian time…", I even missed part of the vows to my best friends wedding, due to him.

    Here's what I think,nwhen people are late they are disrespecting you, it's rude, arrogant, lazy, and uneducated. I simply take my business else where whenever possible. I live in India, and there are always lots of competitors ready to take someone's place…

  2. Apratim Chandra Singh says

    IST – Indian Stretchable Time.

  3. Parag Belsare says

    Why Indians Are Always late?

  4. Parag Belsare says

    Why Indians Are Always late?

  5. Amir Latiff says

    Hi Ravi,

    I must say, this is a terrific article and I even linked it on my site. It was an observation I have noticed in my country as well. I come from Singapore. And I realized that Indians from India are always late and have no care for time at all. I wasn’t sure if it was fact or if it was just me so I searched it on google and that’s how I found you!

    Coming from a developed country, I do realize that time is something very essential to value. It is critical towards national progress. India has immense potential but I feel like its habit of not caring for time is what will thwart it from progress.

    Anyway, I respect that you as an Indian was able to write about something like this! I was surprised. Initially I thought you were another angry non-indian who always has to wait! haha

    Take care brother,
    Khodafez

    1. Sasha says

      Hi there,

      I am from Singapore as well & till today I can never understand why the Indians are ALWAYS late. I am prolly the 5th generation here where my forefathers are descendents of India but the habit is still here.

      Luckily for me, I have mainly Chinese friends and maybe because of that I am always punctual or sometimes in fact arrive 5-10mins prior to the stated time. It could also be my family’s influence where my Dad believes time is money and is always on time no matter how busy he gets.

      Recently, I joined this Indian group and I have a hard time for them to come down on time for meetings. What infuriates me most is when they happily stroll in without apologising. They never care to SMS or call in advanced they’ll be late either. To make things worst, they’ll talk stories and have their dinner. In the end, the meeting starts only 1 hour after the scheduled time.

      Not only that, they never meet their deadlines & leave everything to last minute notice to get things done! And because of that, it causes so much of inconvenience! I wonder if they ever thought of that? Or they have no forward planning? I will have big plans for a project but because of their consistent delays, I can never move forward. In the end, we do bare minimum with bare minimum results. Can’t they see the obvious consequences due to their lateness? No wonder Indians never progress FAST!

      And I wonder if they have any sense of urgency or just too oblivious? Do they give some thoughts to those waiting for them? To me I feel they are not respecting you and your time. They just do not care much. As long as they appear important, they are good. Honestly, I can never seem to trust them. As a friend or colleagues, my trust is almost zero.

      And you have no idea how much fight I have to put up. In the end, I end up being the bad guy and they feel I am a threat. Well, what can I say, birds of same feather flocks together.

      I do not want to work with a group of Indians but I’ll have them as my friends.

  6. Aparajita Bose says

    Don’t forget no store opening, launch or even party begins on time. Everything sans the school bell is always late.

    1. Ravi says

      Like your observation about the school bell. I never experienced any delays in that.

      Tells you that being punctual is not cultural or genetic!

  7. Indiran says

    Guys, stop shouting… Late is a type of mistake, which is not only adopted by Indians. Doing mistakes is a part of human life which have to be rectified by themselves. Late is a property of tardiness which can be defeated by punctuality. We can’t say that Indians do not have punctuality. It is difficult for us to maintain punctuality in our country since it is over populated and due to our environmental conditions. Wherever we go, we have to wait for a long time in the line, so we are not presenting there ourselves at the right time to avoid crowd and to save our time. However we are doing our best in our life when compared with others. Jai Hind!

  8. Indiran says

    Guys, stop shouting… Late is a type of mistake, which is not only adopted by Indians. Doing mistakes is a part of human life which have to be rectified by themselves. Late is a property of tardiness which can be defeated by punctuality. We cann’t say that Indians do not have punctuality. It is difficult for us to maintain punctuality in our country since it is over populated and due to our environmental conditions. Wherever we go, we have to wait for a long time in the line, so we are not presenting there ourselves at the right time to avoid crowd and to save our time. However we are doing our best in our life when compared with others.

  9. Jagannath A says

    I have thought about this umpteen number of times.

    I think we have it in our gene.. all those centuries of vedic wisdom taught us that there is rebirth after all ;) but those people who don’t subscribe to this idea think there is only one life. this explains why they are soooo in a hurry to do stuff :p we are subconsciously programmed like that hehehe

    sorry guys couldn’t come up with a better comment ;)

  10. Pradeep says

    Hey Ravi,
    Nice post and a big question to answer. We need to fix our own habits as well as system also need improvement!

    Also there are people who really don’t value time and to them wasting 30 mins is okay as they are not loosing anything. We Indian got to improve it.

    Reg going late for parties, its about habit for some, but for other its circumstances :)

  11. Altaf Rahman says

    Hello Guys!! If no one has referred to Hyderabad in as important topic as “time” you have not touched the subject yet!!
    Forget the new hitech city crowds who are imigrents from all parts of the country. I am talking about true blue blooded Hyderabadi.
    We wake up not before 10am. Have breakfast around 12 noon. Have lunch around 5 pm and dinner around 12 midnight.
    When we say “aap ka kaam thodi der me ho jaye ga” it means your job will be done before end of day. Kal hoga means tomorrow or day after tomorrow. If we say Parso it means beyond day after tomorrow till eternity.
    We pride on our Biryani, Haleem and leasure.
    I am not demeaning anybody or any thing. I am really taking pride in announcing this.
    Some people are like “Wake up quickly, get ready quickly, go to school / office quickly, come home quickly, have snack quickly, go for shopping quickly, grab a meal quickly, go to bed quickly so that you can get up tomorrow quickly”

    Tomorrow when you die and go to God, he will ask you what have you done with the life I gave you. Will you say I spent it quickly quickly?. Common Have reason. A musquito has a life cycle of 15 days. So it lives quickly (larve, insect, suck blood, pass on the geans, die) An Elephent lives for 80 years (goes through the same rigors as a mosquito except larva stage) So what do you think?

    Anotehr reasoning : While chewing, dont our elders tell us that the good habit is to chew slowly and completely, enjoy the taste of every morsel? This way we enjoy the taste of the complete meal. If we have meal quickly, we only remember what we have eaten not the taste. Same way grind each second slowly enjoy every moment.

    Another reason :

    Aaj kare so kal kar,
    Kal kare so parso,
    Itni bhi kya jaldi yaro,
    Jina hai jab barso :)

    Aadab arze

    Note : The same me when I am on job, wake up at 5 am and be in office at the right time or atleast 5 min before.

    I just wanted to show the other side of the topic. I neither confirm to the above not deny it. When I have a chance I enjoy that way.

    Any bricks and bats welcome :)

  12. Shailesh says

    Ravi, I dont think we are time insensitive. Time itself is relative not just scientifically but culturally and emotionally (your blog is perfect example of that). Is time the only factor in progress? Even if it is a big factor how much are we losing at the end of the day? What do we as mankind want the end of day and is that ‘want’ time dependent? By just valuing time are we taking a narrow view of success?

    Infact I think its time world slows down a bit. Reaching a meeting 10 min late may result in you/business losing x amount but what if that 10 min was spend watching your kid take his 1st steps (I know you can use the same argument vice versa to highlight importance of being punctual). Life is short buddy.

    1. Ravi says

      Shailesh, you made some good points in support of your arguments and I agree that time alone may not be a factor in progress.

      But what about procrastination? I would rather be productive and save time for my private life. Wouldn’t that allow me to proudly take a day off to spend with my kids?

      The argument I am trying to make is the carelessness and insensitivity to your own time. Like you said Life is short so I guess we should respect time more!

  13. Indiran says

    Kasab’s case delayed because of our ruling government’s secular policy (today in our democracy, secularism means only appeasement of minorities).

  14. Ravi says

    Viral, you have authored some of the best articles on trak.in.

    So coming that from you is really flattering! Thanks a lot

  15. Viral says

    Ravi,

    Excellent and one of the better articles I’ve read on Trakin. I was tempted to read it until last line.

    No other views from me, only appreciation. :)

  16. Desithinkers says

    That was great read Ravi and a right observation of how India looks at ‘Time’. The main reason behind ‘late’ and IST is negligence which flows in our blood. We are grown with the attitude “CHALAT HAI” and this chalta hai will cost us very much one day. The globalised economy won’t let us stay as we are. And we are changing and we have to there is no other option and there shouldn’t be.

    1. Ravi says

      Thanks Desithinkers (like the nick!)

      Thank-God ISRO scientists don’t have this attitude.

  17. Yash says

    We Indians waste time because we can! We can AFFORD to be late, by minutes, by hours, by days, weeks or even years. Cause unlike in the developed economies, we are not really earning a lot of money per minute. For majority of the Indians, time is not really valuable.

    We take 30 minute tea break because we know everybody else does. And everybody else does cause they are not really going to earn anything more less by spending more/less time. This is bad for sure. We are a country of procrastinators and that’s not something to be proud of, but that’s the way we are.

    May be in 20 years time as the economy, inflation and earnings grow, people will start putting more value on their time and may be then we will start respecting time like the people in the developed countries. Till then, lets take another tea break!

    1. Ravi says

      Thanks for your comment Yash.

      Not really sure if you are sarcastic so I am assuming your are not.
      So does that mean we don’t value our time? I don’t think so.

      When a daily wage worker is paid by hour he tends to delay things but if you contract them out to finish the job in X days the productivity is much higher.

      Some of the IT projects are billed by hour so we afford to make “best” use of client time and money but the moment deadline approaches we are right on money.

      I don’t think so its about whether we earn more or less its just that how much we value time. I would never want us to be taking extra breaks just because we dont earn more. Infact we should put in our best efforts.

  18. rabi gupta says

    Hi Ravi,

    I appreciate this post. But somehow its really very difficult to change this habit by a blog post. It’s so deeply inculcated in our system, and because of system only we are not able to appreciate the value of time. Same people goto US/Europe and they are changed in a DAY :).. so its not about a person, it’s about the system. Trains get late coz of system, not because Driver runs it slow.. and it is really very difficult to correct this!

    1. Ravi says

      Hey Rabi. just saw your website and it looks awesome!

      So as an entrepreneur do you blame the system for the delays in your business or you do something about it? I am sure you do something to fix it.That’s precisely my point!

      I don’t think so people going late to a party is the fault of a system. Restaurants not working efficiently or planning the capacity is a fault of system. Its just about commitment and respecting time.

      Its also not about US/Europe culture, you’ll be surprised to find most of us are consistent here in procrastination as well. System will work the way you make it work.

      If we start playing blame game and don’t do anything about it, you are right it will be very difficult to change it! However, I do acknowledge your point towards last part of my article.

      1. rabigupta says

        Thanks Ravi.

        I agree to your individualistic point of view. As far as I’m concerned I’ll try to respect time. But system becomes important even for me. I’ll give a short example- For past month Delhi has been raining like anything and there is construction all around and to add to chaos there is a special CWG lane on every major road. Now if I have to attend a meeting at 10 AM suppose at Gurgaon, will I start from my home at 6 AM, simply to respect the meeting time? And I know that if I’m starting at 8 AM (coz 2 hours is the normal time to reach) I’ll never be able to reach in time.
        My point is time of both parties need to be respected, our own time is also valuable but here if I can do anything then I’d try to. Going by public transport is also an option, but I would prefer to sit at home rather than going by a Metro where I can be killed of suffocation :P …

        1. Ashwani Thapar says

          “Going by a Metro where I can be killed of suffocation” – what a cop out. One of the best things happened in India promptly. A world class commute & runs on time. One example which contradicts Ravi’s blog. Which shows how many people, working in METRO system are on time. And Metros are spreading like a contagious disease all over India. Which means a humongous quantity of individuals, have part of their life running promptly.

          You may say this is because of the system adopted by METRO. Ok, but it was an individual who defined that system. The management style of E. Sridharan included the punctuality at every step, like in a closed loop control system.

          If an individual starts focussing on the productivity factor of one’s life on small to large time slot basis, with a goal; I am sure one would start respecting the time.

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