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IST- Indian Stretchable Time

IST- Indian Stretchable Time

July 19, 2012

Should the world learn to tolerate Indian stretchable time as a cultural quirk? Or have we forgotten our manners?



Several years ago, my family was invited to a dinner party. The hosts had informed everyone that the party was starting at 7PM. My family showed up at 7.15PM, and my parents had an apology ready. We stood outside the door for about 10 minutes ringing the bell, and rapping the door like a bunch of loons. When no one opened the door, we headed back home feeling rather foolish, and ordered pizza for dinner.

At about 9.30PM, my mother got a call from the rather irate party organiser demanding to know where we were. My mother said she thought the party was cancelled because we'd come at 7.15PM, waited and gone back. I overheard that woman’s screechy voice over the phone yelling, "Ya but when I said 7, I meant 8.30PM."

My dad noticed the look of confusion on my face, rolled his eyes, and then proceeded to tell me about "IST" or "Indian Stretchable Time".

I think almost every Indian I know is familiar with the concept of "IST". Don’t get me wrong, I actually love how our culture believes that time stretches on forever, and how we are tolerant and flexible enough to accept delays on the part of others. But when we make it a point to show up an hour to two hours late at every single event, and take undue advantage of our cultural tolerance towards late-coming, it starts to rankle. There are those who don’t even bother to apologize for coming late.

I may be a little too sensitive about the issue, probably due to my Singaporean upbringing, which taught me that being tardy is to insult others who have taken the trouble to be punctual. There is an infamous Singaporean saying, “Time is Money”, which nicely sums up exactly how precious a commodity time is for most Singaporeans. Showing up late to school would get you a detention of scrubbing the boys’ toilets with a toothbrush and a capful of JIF. Showing up late to parties is considered a deep insult to the hosts, and showing up late to work could get you everything from a yelling from your boss, to a verbal warning from HR.

Should the world become more accommodating of our cultural proclivity to stretch time? And should I be tolerant to those who apply “IST” to the workplace? So many Indian executives I’ve dealt with do everything from showing up an hour late to business meetings, to simply not responding to phone calls, text messages or work emails. I’ve had Indian colleagues who showed up 20 minutes to an hour late to work every day. And I have recruiter friends who’ve recounted horror stories about candidates who showed up half an hour to an hour late to job interviews. In 9 out of 10 cases, those candidates were Indian. One of the recruiters, an Indian herself, told me about a client who actually asked if late coming was an Indian cultural thing, and if so, was it wise to hire an Indian?

Clearly, Indian Stretchable Time is a cancerous habit that is now encroaching into India’s professional and business identity, and needs to be eradicated before it becomes too deeply entrenched. And I strongly believe the change needs to start at the root of where it all began - Indian parties. The worst offenders ought to be made to stand outside the party venue with the sign from my old school discipline master - "I'm a late-coming fool" hanging around their necks. And as part of the party entertainment, they should be asked to clean the men's bathroom with a toothbrush and a cap full of detergent, while we send the occasional drunk in there to take a leak - preferably all over them. That would teach those over-dressed aunties and uncles who love to show up 2 hours late to make a 'grand' entry, a much needed lesson.

I admit being at a loss to dealing with tardy clients and business contacts, and would love to hear non-violent, Legal and hopefully witty solutions from the wise and wonderful readers of The NRI. 

20 Comments

  • Quirks of life in India | fiftyshadesofindia
    By
    Quirks of life in India | fiftyshadesofindia
    28.01.13 10:13 PM
    [...] if you do complain, typically they don’t understand or just laugh!).  I’ve read a few articles about the Indian attitude to timekeeping which suggest that this is something deeply ingrained into [...]
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    16.08.12 12:10 PM
    Divya S,

    To prolong your party into the wee hours of the next morning say Poonam Pandey is your special guest. Of course Poonam will be your last guest, she is never punctual I heard. Who does not want look at Poonam?

    Look at your watch every now and then and pretend to be on your mobile with her and don’t forget to announce she is on her way, that she in a Jam (traffic) until next morning and finally say her car crashed into a tree, she so smashed up it would horrible looking at her in that bad shape. End of Party.

    You could try sending an invitations to me and my deutsche friends we would be there weeks before your party starts and rest assured of an entertainment to put you late comers to shame. Pleeeze seniorita Kein problem.
  • Divya S
    By
    Divya S
    16.08.12 11:46 AM
    @Rajpriya- even better idea. LOL. Although I find it helpful to host events in places that close by a fixed time so people who show up late will actually be forced to leave. HEHEHE

    Anyway- I'm sure that as a Germany based Indian you may not encounter so much of late-coming? All my German friends elevate punctuality to a fine art!

    ~Divya S
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    16.08.12 09:18 AM
    @Divya S,

    One late thought: Announce the Girls will leave the party sharp 9.00pm after which time there would remain only the older aunties. This announcement should make the difference.

    Wine, Song no women after 9.00pm could be more effective.
  • Divya S
    By
    Divya S
    16.08.12 09:05 AM
    Lovely commenters, apologies for my late reply. And yes I do know the irony in me being late to reply in a post on punctuality.

    *ducks flying word missiles*

    @Rajpriya- That's a brilliant idea. Everyone will come on time to get free drinks. The Indian cheapo will always win the battle with the chronic Indian late comer. ;)

    @GOCAnandhan- I am always an hour ahead of schedule for parties- so never going to be an issue. If you do show up I will have beer (or Filter Coffee) and pakkodas among other things. :)

    @Harry- Don't worry I will never invite you to my parties so don't worry about not coming or calling me nasty. :P LOL

    @TTT- Feeling important-- now that explains a lot. Maybe all these folk need is for some serious ego puncturing at their client meeting so they never feel 'important' again and show up on time. This I can do. After all- I am "nasty". ;)

    @Jaish- I've heard that one as well. I cringe every time I hear it.

    @Deepa- Spot on observation there! I used to try these 'come at X time' games but it just gets hard to keep it all straight. Now I just tell friends 'show up on time or Eff off'. Actually quite effective- and I get the bonus of being scary which I never was. ;)

    @Britul- Glad to hear the younger generation of Indians are becoming punctual! Out here in the wilds of the far east- the younger generation is as bad as their parents' one.

    @Ginu- I feel your pain on bureaucracy. But that's a rant for another day no?

    ~Divya S
  • Ginu George
    By
    Ginu George
    29.07.12 05:38 PM
    Punctuality is seldom a virtue upheld in the Indian bureaucracy. Every time I need to go to a government office, the stipulated beginning time of 10am is just a fantasy and a fallacy. Corruption has alienated accountability and thus affected punctuality as well.
  • Britul
    By
    Britul
    28.07.12 11:49 AM
    Its true, but i think the time is changing now ... specially the younger generations are becoming punctual as compared to elder generations ...

    just my view of the topic .. ;-)
  • Deepa Duraisamy
    By
    Deepa Duraisamy
    24.07.12 01:18 PM
    I know of 2 friends of mine - if one calls the other and tells him 'Come at 8' the other would say 'When he says 8 he actually means 8:30, so I'll go at 8:30'. If you talk to the 1st one, he would say 'I wanted to call him for 8:30 only, but I told him 8 because I know he would come a half hour late'! So in the end both end up meeting as 'EXPECTED' at 8:30! I don't know if I should find that funny or irritating!

    Divya, you're right when you say coming late has started getting associated with laziness. Its a sad assumption. Maybe there should be two categories, parties and such where the norms are drop in when you can but important stuff like meetings and appointments should be adhered to. If I don't like to be kept waiting, I shouldn't keep someone waiting too! Be with others as you would want others to be with you.
  • jaish_vats
    By
    jaish_vats
    21.07.12 09:36 PM
    i agree....Its called 'Indian Punctuality' in some circles!
  • TTT
    By
    TTT
    20.07.12 08:28 PM
    the later we arrive for a meeting . interview ...the more important we feel...after all we are a busy lot na ! This is the attitude I have observed in most of the people :(
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    20.07.12 07:36 PM
    @ Divya S

    LOL, I'm definitely not coming to your party, You are a nasty pasty :). I always go to the party late. :) The only way I will clean up is, if you are going to re-use the tooth brush again.

    HARRY
  • GOCAnandhan
    By
    GOCAnandhan
    19.07.12 09:28 PM
    What if they come in early? Well, have a few snacks and beer ready, just in case.
    Remember, this is only for habitual offenders. People you're sure will be late.
    I know the feeling. I am always early for an appointment and my closest friend is always late. So, most of the time, we fix a time allowing some leeway for him to be late.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    19.07.12 04:06 PM
    Yes! We do pretend to have punctualities when we say I'm sorry I'm late.

    Giving party time as 5 when it's really at 7 what if people are punctually there at 5 and find no party they really could have a 2 hour hangover even before the party starts.

    Better to say party starts at 7 and goes on till midnight. Walk in any time you please but remember coming late would deprive you of food and whiskey that's limited. Early bird gets the worm. LOL
  • Divya S
    By
    Divya S
    19.07.12 03:27 PM
    Punctuality may be a colonial virus, but when the whole world has caught and embraced it- isn't it better we at least pretend to have it as well? ;)

    Yes i know i know- I get a wee bit ruffled by this issue. I guess the real reason why I am so riled up is the association of late coming with laziness. Its not true of course, but people (especially non-Indians) come to believe it.

    On a side note- telling chronic latecomers to show up 2 hours earlier than the prescribed meeting time is an inspired idea. I am going to try that next! ;) And if they are still late despite all that- I'll have my toothbrush ready.

    So what if they never show up again? Honestly, I could do with less late coming rude morons in my life. *ahem*

    ~Div
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    19.07.12 02:51 PM
    Punctuality is a colonial virus.
  • GOCAnandhan
    By
    GOCAnandhan
    19.07.12 01:23 PM
    I'm afraid there are no solutions as far as changing such habits are concerned.
    You could try telling habitual offenders that the party starts at 5 when it is actually set for 7.
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    19.07.12 10:57 AM
    Yes! we did dispense with Royalty and imperialism.
    Why should we then not have our own IST punctuality norms?

    When we said good bye to the British we rule by Indian law and what's the indecent hurry to be on time. Come on people take it easy life is short but you could stretch it with IST. Ha, Ha.

    Like your post.
  • Ash
    By
    Ash
    19.07.12 10:50 AM
    So accurate! We Indians have no concept of punctuality.
  • C. Suresh
    By
    C. Suresh
    19.07.12 10:31 AM
    Hmm! Punctuality, they say, is the politeness of princes. Since we dispensed with the Royalty we seem to have dispensed with punctuality as well :)
  • Ranita Sinha
    By
    Ranita Sinha
    19.07.12 09:04 AM
    Superlike!!!!cent percent true..and i like ur idea of cleaning the toilet with a tooth brush with a handful of detergent to make them punctual..but if it at all becomes a rule those uncle and aunties would prefer not to show..

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