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Saturday, February 2, 2002

When a secretary of George Washington, excusing himself for being late, said that his

watch was too slow, the general's reply was, "You must get a new watch, or I must get

a new secretary." If this were the case, most of us in Hyderabad would be changing

secretaries every week. Emerson said, "I could never think well of a man's intellectual or

moral character, if he was habitually unfaithful to his appointments.'

All of us have numerous experiences of meetings which started late and ended even

later, of staff that is rarely punctual, of airlines which have forgotten that people have

schedules to keep, and of agitated hostesses not knowing whether to begin with drinks

and hold the snacks or start the snacks and forget the late comers.

Things have become so bad that nobody expects a meeting or function to start on time.

So people come in late anyway. Organisers anticipate it and never take their own

schedule seriously. As a result delay has become a self-fulfilling prophecy! And those

punctilious persons who arrive on time – be it the audience or the speakers – end up

waiting impatiently. The chief guest or some other worthy who arrives late is rarely

mindful of the fact that the delay of one hour on his account meant that 500 person-hours

are wasted. Our so-called VIPs actually think it is infra dig to be on time!

This unpunctual and languid approach causes serious dislocation in daily life. If a bus

doesn't run on time, an extra half hour provision has to be made to arrive on time. As

nothing is predictable, chaos reigns. I remember a train trip I made from Brussels to a

small village in the Netherlands. It involved changing trains in Rotterdam and Utrecht

and the hour was late. I had only 40 seconds to change trains at Rotterdam, and my train

was already delayed by more than a minute at the previous station, Antwerp. I explained

my concern to an attendant who assured me that the train would reach Rotterdam in time,

notwithstanding the delay in Antwerp. A few minutes before the train reached Rotterdam,

she came up to me, confirmed that the train was on time, and gave me the platform

number to catch the train to Utrecht. If the little things in life – the train or bus timing, the start or closure of a meeting, a colleague's arrival at the office – are predictable, then work becomes a pleasure and productivity rises dramatically.

We, Hyderabadis, are known for our generosity and warmth, but not for punctuality. We

are particularly afflicted by the 'chalta hai' attitude, and endless hours are wasted in delay.

But modern economy and habitual delays cannot go together. And this is a problem

government cannot fix. We need to value our own time and that of others. Punctuality

is indeed the manner of the princes. We need to appreciate those who are punctual, and

frown upon latecomers. Peer pressure works wonders. The Indian concept of eternal time

will have to give way to the idea of finite and valuable time. "Better late than never" is not half so good a maxim as "Better never late."

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