“Sanjay, I need that report in my inbox now.”
“Yes sir, just two minutes.”
Ten minutes later.
“Sanjay, where is that report? You said you would have it to me eight minutes ago? Why can’t you meet your own deadline?”
India’s relationship with time is misunderstood. You might have an image of India where nothing runs on time, promises are broken, and time is completely insignificant.
But that’s not (totally) true. Even though the basic outlook on time is completely different in India, time is still important. Projects have to be completed, trains have to leave, and marriages must be fixed at a particular time.
Yet, time is a persistent struggle for outsiders in India. Why? I think it’s possibly an issue of semantics (among other things).
When you, as an outsider, say “2 minutes”, you mean somewhere in the range of 120 seconds. Fifteen minutes from 10:05am is 10:20am. Tomorrow means the day after today. (This is a generalization of westerners that I recognize isn’t always true.)
However, these expressions mean something different here. They are more like the term ASAP. How long is ASAP? It could be a minute; it could be a year. But when I say, “It will be done ASAP”, you know that I am actively working on it.
You should apply the same logic to expressions of time in India. Here, these phrases don’t measure time, but intent.
1. One Minute
Context: I am attaching the file right now. Just one minute.
Translation: I’m looking for the file now and I should find it soon.
2. Two Minutes
Context: I’ll be there in 2 minutes.
Translation: I know where you are, and I am rushing to reach there now, so stop calling me.
3. Five Minutes
Context: Just give me 5 minutes and I’ll be down.
Translation: I have someone breathing down my neck right now for something else. Let me take care of them, and then I’ll be there.
4. Ten minutes
Context: The meeting will start in 10 minutes.
Translation: Get a little comfortable, the boss hasn’t reached yet.
5. One hour
Context: Mr. Appaswamy will be back only after one hour.
Translation: Please don’t wait here.
6. EOD (End of Day)
Context: The proposal will be finished definitely by EOD.
Translation: This will be the last thing I do before I leave OR the first thing I do in the morning before you get up.
Context: I’ll come to fix your sink tomorrow.
Translation: Some day other than today.
8. Wait some time
Context: The deputy minister is in another meeting. Please wait some time.
Translation: Maybe five minutes, maybe never.
9. At the earliest
Context: I will make sure it reaches you at the earliest.
Translation: I’ve added it to my to-do list above some other things.
10. Next Month
Context: Let’s take a look at this again next month.
Translation: Probably never again, but let’s not rule it out.
As soon as you can, stop measuring time in seconds and minutes and switch to intent. You’ll save yourself a lot of stress.
Image Credit: Christopher Fynn on Flickr