Keeping Time


My grandfather wore his watch on the inside of his wrist. The picture above is of my hand and this is how I wore a wrist watch too. I was not of serious wrist-watch wearing age when my grandfather passed away. Back then, my wrist watch had a frog painted on its face. The eyes of the frog were a gimmick, they oscillated with each second. It was a watch enough for me to learn to tell time — nothing more meaningful — nothing that my grandfather ever had the chance to teach.

As I grew older, I was given many wrist-watches and I used them a lot. The competitive nature of the Indian education system required me to maintain tight study schedules all within the established construct of time. Life was fast paced and the wrist watch kept me on track: class schedules, bus schedules, train schedules, etc. The definition of life was a series of tasks that required to be performed punctually and a wrist-watch was its metronome. There were little or no aimless wanderings or pointless contemplations. A hectic schedule was true for most students in most metropolitan cities of India. It naturally led to stress. To de-stress, I would hike up the hill next to our condo, alone, and sit up there overlooking an uninterrupted view of the city. The journey up this hill was just as pleasant as the time spent on top. As a part of my day’s schedule, this hike had a defined end-time even before it started. My wrist watch would tell me when to hike back home.

Today, I have somewhat of a distraction free apartment. There is no cable TV subscription and no Netflix instant play (I love movies by the way). I keep very few clocks around the apartment — a small analog one above the TV and a digital clock in my microwave. Bare floors let the eye travel untrammeled. I like sitting by the window and write or read. The drawback of writing in my apartment is easy access to multiple napping areas. Today, I gathered my laptop and rode my bike to the local coffee shop. My grandfather was a man of action, not a single lazy bone in his body. I have inherited some laid-back-ness from the rest of my ancestry and being away from an accessible bed does wonders to my productivity, especially during nap-time. Also, the prospect of good coffee is attractive. The coffee shop resonates with various noises: coffee being ground, espresso being brewed, spent grounds being dumped, doors being opened and shut, and people entering and leaving. There is a rhythm to this place set by the people visiting it and there is a variety in the concept of time here. Some groups are having hurried conversations, some more relaxed, and some are engrossed in a dialog with the author of the book they are reading. Some wait for a good cup of pour-over coffee, some just want the fast brew in a paper cup to-go. Intent brings people here and their pace is defined by that intent.

I have been told that my grandfather was a man of action. He was respectable and people listened to him. My hypothesis is that he was an introvert with intent. His intent revolved around his devotion to his family. His intent required him to be social and his introversion ensured that the time spent being social was more purposeful. I think people around him felt the gravity of his intent amplified by his somewhat introverted personality. He had served a majority of his career as a manager of a coal-mine in central India. He knew the importance of keeping schedules and working on time-tables. He worked on a schedule different from everyone else’s. He shaped time, molded it even to fit his intent. The intent that drove his actions was timely. It is timely intent that holds value.

I don’t wear a wrist watch any more. It started raining on my commute back from the coffee shop. It was one of those Florida rains that surely pass. Not wanting to wait, I rode my bike back home in the rain. When I reached home, Laya was ready for a walk. It was still raining. I left my apartment with just my keys and Laya on a leash. We walked in the rain for what seemed like a lifetime. The refreshing rain drops hit my face horizontally. It seemed an eternity before the next rain drop landed on me while I waited for it. The cool air coupled with the damp shirt sent shivers down my spine. We walked our usual route, Laya sniffed her usual smells, I looked at subtle changes in the usual shrubs and trees. The hexagonal sidewalk pavers looked fresh. New puddles formed. The river was alive. Time did not move.

My relationship with time changed a few years ago when I found myself incessantly looking at my wrist-watch without registering the time of the day. It was a habitual activity of glazing over the clock-face, a sure sign of anxiety, a symbol of a mind cluttered with daily schedules. More time was devoted to deadlines than intent. I first quit wearing my watch. Then, any deadline went into a calendar with an alarm synced with my phone. Now, I was free from tracking time. Now I could tract intent. Without a schedule to track, walks and bike rides became more rewarding than before. Work gained quality. Experiences became richer. Gradually, I found resonance in ideas like the Slow Food Movement, Slow Web Movement, and Slow Bicycle Movement. These movements urge people to highlight the noun (Food, Web, Bicycle) rather than the adjective (“Fast” in fast-food etc., that the Slow Food Movement is against). They highlight intent rather than time.

” Time is less a rigid vase and more an unfired lump of clay, malleable at the hands of experience, better measured by the richness of our memories than any clock or calendar.” — Jack Cheng

Posted by on June 25, 2012 in life


  • Robin ganguli says:

    WONDERFUL. As if I were walking with you and laya.- Meshomashai

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