A European manufacturer, on his first visit to India, and I were at a large automotive factory on the outskirts of the city discussing the customer’s requirement of equipment for their new project. At the end of the day, we had not completed our discussion. I asked the customer what time we should meet him the next morning. His reply was, “9.00 – 9.30.” As soon as we started driving back towards the city, the European visitor asked me, “What did the gentleman mean by 9.00 – 9.30?” I explained, “He normally starts work at 8.00. I guess he meant that he’ll complete his routine work within 60 to 90 minutes. So, he will definitely be ready to start the meeting at 9.30, maybe earlier, but not before 9.00.” The European gentleman just could not understand why the customer had to give us a 30-minute range. We decided to reach the customer’s factory at 9.00. This might have meant that we would have to wait for 30 minutes or less, but we both did not want to make the customer wait for us if he was ready to start the meeting at 9.00.
The next day, we reached the customer’s office at 9.00 am and cooled our heels for about 75 minutes until the customer walked in at 10.15 am. He neither expressed any regret nor did he offer any explanation for keeping us waiting.
That afternoon, as we were driving back to the city, the European gentleman stated that he was disgusted that, not only had the customer reached so late for our meeting, he had neither expressed any regret nor offered any explanation for his late arrival. He said this showed that this customer was habitually unpunctual. He expressed surprise at the fact that I was not at all upset. I replied that, while the customer’s unpunctuality today had upset me, I knew I had to put up with his unpunctuality if I wanted to do business with him.
In reply to his next question, I replied that most of our customers and most other people in India are quite punctual. This was not true, but I felt I should not speak ill of my compatriots to a foreigner. The truth is unpunctuality is rampant in India. Most of us consider it our birthright to be late! The quip that IST stands for Indian Stretchable Time, not Indian Standard Time, is today a cruel joke on us Indians. It is strange that, while we generally do not miss flights or trains or bill payment deadlines, many of us are consistently unpunctual in our daily lives. I have described an incident about my customer’s unpunctuality, but unpunctuality is very common among all kinds of people irrespective of age, gender, religion, caste, economic status, educational background, profession, place of residence, etc. I have come across salespersons reaching late for meetings (when I’m the customer), job applicants reporting late for interviews, students reporting late for examinations … the list is endless!
I am a time-conscious person. I try to be punctual always, and succeed most of the time. If I get delayed for reasons beyond my control, I inform the other person(s) as soon as I know I am likely to be delayed. I expect the same from others. I get terribly upset every time I encounter persons who are not time-conscious. Unless I have compelling reasons not to do so, I make my displeasure clear to such persons.
Nobody is intentionally unpunctual. Then, why is unpunctuality so widespread in India? Firstly, it’s because we do not value time: our own or that of others. Secondly, we take so much pride in being tolerant that punctual persons tolerate the unpunctuality of others. After a while, most punctual persons also become unpunctual. It’s only the unreasonable persons (like me) who insist on being punctual and on others being punctual.