One of the first complaints you will hear about India is that it operates on IST, or Indian Stretchable Time.
You slowly learn that “2 minutes” does not refer to 120 seconds, but rather “I’ll do it as fast as I can.”
“It will be done tomorrow” is more likely to mean “Don’t expect it today” than it does “You will have it in 24 hours.”
In India, time is not about countable, segmented hours and minutes. Time is measured by events, priorities, emergency requests from your boss, or waiting for your friend to reply to your missed call. Expressions of time are expressions of intent rather than mathematics.
Traditional Hindu teaching estimates that the universe is currently around 150 trillion years old, and has gone through over 15,000 cycles and rebirths, each lasting between 4-8 billion years.While not every Indian operates off this calendar, you can start to see where a few minutes and even days here and there don’t matter much.
Time is not meant to be controlled, but experienced. You cannot force it to do what you want. Planning and scheduling are always in flux. The meeting you made today is much more likely to be delayed than to actually happen. Things happen when they will, not when you want them to.
Time and Relationships
Not only does time flow freely and refuse to be contained, it is also used to validate relationships.
I heard the story of an expatriate working in India for a small family business. He had a one-hour weekly meeting with the leadership team from 3-4pm. One week, he set up a meeting with a vendor for 4pm. The leadership meeting was going long, and he excused himself from the meeting at 3:55 to go meet the vendor.
After the vendor meeting, he returned to his desk, and could sense a cold atmosphere around him. His boss called him into his office. When the expat sat down, the boss asked him bluntly, “Why don’t you have any respect for us?” Shocked, the expat asked what made it seem like he had no respect. His boss answered “How can you give more importance to a vendor than your team?”
In India, time is not just a measurement to get things done, it is also a currency you use to show who is important in your life. The CEO of the IT company must stop what he is doing and answer his auntie’s call about how to reset her wireless router. The new salesman must be willing to take his boss’s call at any time of the day or night.
A new look at Time Management in India
India’s preference for delay and its use of time to validate relationships are dangers you should be aware of early on. In meetings that ran late, I used to anxiously look at my watch, and send not-so-subtle body language hints to communicate that I was upset that we were taking so much time (even if I had no particular place I had to be). This not only created an enormous amount of stress in me, it also ruined some relationships and made people uncomfortable around me.
Slowly prying a few fingers off of your tight hold of time will work out for the best, and increase your life expectancy in India.
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Photo Credit: sudamshu on Flickr