The other day I was to pick up some friends on our way to the multiplex to watch Omkara. We had arranged to meet at 9:25 and I had to pick up another lady a few blocks away at 9:30. One of the 9:25 ladies finally arrived at 9:35 and in those 10 minutes I had sweated, fretted and fumed. I cannot handle people taking my time for granted and her delay also meant I would be late to pick up the other person which meant taking her time for granted. The worst part was that this friend who arrived late just got in with a smile and did not even feel the need to apologise and when we made it to the hall, she casually says "we were not late for the show or anything, no?".
I guess it is this cavalier attitude towards appointments that has resulted in the joke about Indian standard time. A friend once said, in India we are attuned to the concept of cosmic time and the belief that we always have another birth to finish the things and hence the cool attitude towards seconds and minutes. My sister who went to Germany told me how things work there: If you fix a meeting for 9 a.m and arrive at 8:55, the room would be empty. At 8:59. they all walk in and at 9, everyone is there!

I think it was my job at the bank and the responsibility of carrying the vault keys which has instilled in me the obsession with being on time. You cannot afford to open the Vault later than 9 a.m as it would result in long customer complaints and disciplinary action. And I also believe that being late for an appointment implies an insult to the other person's schedule. One has to think of the trouble that the other person has taken to arrive at the scheduled hour. Every one has a busy life after all. And from practice I know that all it takes to be punctual is the willingness to do it. It is not too tough to work backwards and factor in possible delays and if it seems unachievable, it is better to fix it for a later time than commit to a time and miss it by an hour.

I even know students who tell me how they walked into the exam hall half an hour late for an exam and I simply cannot understand it. I think if the rules of the examination did not permit the grace time, they would make it on time. And the flippant excuses for the delay are even more irritating - "I got up late", "I was searching for a matching pair of slippers". AARRGGGHHHHHHHH.....

Apparently punctuality is not a virtue among latin Americans either. So in 2003, Ecuador launched a campaign to change the mindset of the people. As the Economist reported:
"Hundreds of institutions ranging from local councils to airlines have signed up to a promise to keep to time. Stragglers are barred from entering meetings. Hotel-style door signs have appeared in offices and schools. On one side, they say “Come in: You're on time'' and on the other “Do not enter: the meeting began on time.'' A local newspaper is publishing a daily list of public officials who turn up late to events."

Time we did something like this in this country. Can we start a Campaign?
29 Responses
  1. rads Says:

    Show me the petition, I will sign it first!

    Last week, I had to pick up my daughter from a party. They said 7, and I was already in the neighborhood around 6.45, so decided I'd just wait it out. Had a book I needed to finish. As I look up after a few minutes, I notice no less than 6 cars all parked in the area humming... at sharp 6.59, you could see doors open one by one, dads and moms trooping out, to walk up the driveway, with polite nods to each other, and wait for the main door to open so the kids could pour out.

    Was just plain amazing!!

  2. Anonymous Says:


    When my son was in day care in Ann Arbor MI. the day care got tired of stragglers mom/pops who were late to pick up their children, till the fine was imposed. $1/minute after 6.00 pm. That solved the problem quite well.
    I was in a road accident in winter (before I had a cell phone) and got fined $78.00.
    Most day care in the US have some fine policy, although the amounts are not as exhorbitant.


  3. Anonymous Says:

    I have always considered punctuality a virtue and it always irritates me when my husband never keeps to his time commitments.
    Americans are not known for their strict adherence to time, even in business settings. I have worked in the US for 10 years now and very few people join meetings on time. Most of them are late by at least 5 minutes and don't bother apologizing either.
    Latin America as you know is a collection of countries. To improve the clarity in your post, you might want to identify the country where the campaign was introduced.

  4. Hip Grandma Says:

    Punctuality is a virtue that we Indians happily forget.In fact being on time means you have nothing else to do. I arrive in college my colleagues say 'oh you're children are now grown and you have nothing much to do.' When they were young it was "you have daughters who help you out" or "you call your servant in the evening. I can't think of leaving the house brfore it is swept and swabbed."It is automatically assumed that I come on time 'cos I neglect my duties as mother and wife and that my children went to college straight from their cradles.I'll jpin any campaign meant to drive some sense into such people.I've had enough.

  5. I doubt if we can attribute punctuality to a particular race/country. I think it is more to do with an individual's personality. The worst example of punctuality is the wait time for doctors in the US.

    I had an appointment at 3 in the afternoon. My husband and I had to bear the scorn of our bosses while we rushed to make the appointment. When I called up to tell the receptionist, I would be a couple of minutes late, she told me in a stern voice - No more than 5 mintues late, as if the doctor took even the decision to breathe on the dot.
    And to our chargin, we had to wait for an hour and half to just meet the doctor, who then rattled on about his opinions about the War in lebanon, instead of listening to my issues!

    I was really disgusted to the core. One should realise that time is very important, not only for you but for the other person also!

  6. Deeps Says:

    Atleast if you have to wait for friends/family, its understandable. Whats worse are these girl-seeing ceremonies!!

    The guy and his family agree to come and "see" the girl at some particular time and come hours late. It happened with me once, theu came more than 3 hours late!! They were supposed to come at aroung 4:30 PM and landed at 8 PM.We had some other outing planned at about 8 PM and obviously we were late. The anger must have shown on our faces, so they were gone in half an hour or so :-p. I really detest the so-called boy's side taking the girl side for granted!!

  7. Usha Says:

    Vidya: Thanks for pointing out the mistake - had not noticed it first time when I read it. the country is Ecuador.

  8. Preethi Says:

    Even if we start a campaign of that kind also, this wont change, coz lateness is deeprooted in our blood..

    Just soooo irritating!

  9. This is so true that people are taking each others time for granted.
    I think this is more to do with the culture. When we are late for the wedding or a house warming function, we set an example to our children and others.
    But at the same time, i know I cannot be late for my exams. if i loose one minute, i am loosing one minute of success.

  10. what you doing this Saturday,5:30 pm ? ;)

  11. Shruthi Says:

    Ah ... one of my pet peeves -- people who do not value time. I had a post on this a while ago -- It's the time to be on time!

  12. Balaji Says:

    Guys and Gals,

    Relax. I understand everyone's frustration with regards to time keeping. And know what this cannot be changed overnight. Atleast that is what I feel. It comes from culture to culture. Some cultures do not mind people turning up late. In some countries there is no worse sin than that for eg. in Japan,Switzerland, england etc.

    Hopefully you all will teach good habits to your children and they learn the value of time. I am sure our next generation will not be as bad as the present one.

  13. Raj Says:

    You remind me of my English teacher in school. She would keep stressing the importance of punctuality, where to use a comma, where to place a semi-colon......

    But,seriously. On the one extreme are the habitual late-comers and on the other are fastidious sticklers for time who let their watches run their lives and also expect quartz precision from others. Cavalier attitude on one side and total intolerance on the other. As with everything in life, a via media is required.

  14. Usha Says:

    Rads:I think social pressure is a very good way to instil such habits.

    Anon: Why was the need for fine felt in the first place? Were parents actually coming late without a good reason? I would have thought they would panic about coming late to pick up a child from day care even without a fine!

    Vidya: Actually not apologising after coming late is a classic case of adding insult to injury.
    Why is this tolerated - i mean the coming late because everybody does it at some time or other?
    Thanks once again for pointing out the blunder of omission of the country name.

    Hipgrandmom: I agree. i have faced it too from my staff at the bank who used to come late and give such excuses none of which seemed valid to me. I can see how "enough" you have had from that tone!

    Vidhya: That is completely unacceptable , unless he had an emergency or something! I have even changed doctors for precisely this rreason. I guess he took longer with each patient discussing the war at length!!

    Deeps: Really! So you rejected the boy even before seeing him, in your mind, I am sure.Shocking to see that they still have that kind of attitude.

    SG: It may take time but it is worth the effort I think. let us not surrender before the battle begins.

    Gomathi:Apparently at one point they used to say that you should not be there ahead of time or on time if you are an important person. "Konjam late a pona daan madippa irukkum" attitude!!

    Doozie: where shall we do it? Outside the Vidhan Soudha?

    Shruthi: Excellent post - loved it. Yeah, can make out how important it is to you!

    Balaji: haha, thanks for restoring order but can we change this habit in our culture if it can make us better? Teaching children means that parents have to do it by example. So we have to begin with ourselves.

    Raj:punctuality and punctuation are closley related, having the same Latin root, and punctuation is partly a matter of rhythm and timing. I read about "the ingenious rule of thumb that the difference between a comma and a semi-colon consists in the length of the pause you'd use if reading the sentence aloud."

    Via media - ya, 9 means 9ish should be ok so long as the-ish doesn't stretch beyond 5 mins.

  15. Inder Says:

    punctuality should be taught ate early ages. Trying to introduce punctuality to grown ups is pretty tough...

  16. MJ Says:

    a very good post again Usha...i think Punctuality must become ones habbit from the childhood and should be carried on with us all the time. But it really upset us when others consider our time as nothing...we should definetly start the campaign n can see the results somewhere down the line...lets say it's never late. :)

    But the sad part or rather the fact in India is that we try to implement all these campaigns(not every time but few times) with the 'FINE' tag...y should we do that,cant every individual feel it's his own responsibility n an act of proper decipline in life to maintain time...does s/he needs the second person's "frame set" to do so?

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Usha, I work in the advertising industry and work with a whole lot of advertising junkies. NEVER.. i mean never are they on time for a recording or for a shoot or for that matter even for a meeting.
    We book the studio [for a shoot/recording] at a particular time and they come atleast an hour late. The most common excuse [which they bother to give very rarely ] is that they had a client meeting in the other side of town [in Mumbai].Too bad I say! And they are aware of the fact that we, as producers pay the studio, engineers, other technical crew per hour and this delay from their end always costs us a hell a lot of money.

    .. And mind you these junkies are never late for their client meetings. The worst are these Monday morning 10 am meetings at the advertising agencies. We, producers like idiots wait for them till 11-11.30 to commence the meeting. Sad, you know.. I hate these advertising junkies who take time for granted just because they are our clients and we need to produce their films and radio spots to earn a living

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Nice post ma .. can't forget the anxiety on your face when I used to say I was coming at 9 and end up back home at 1 in the night. I thought you would have got used to it by now :-)


  19. passerby55 Says:

    IST ... some things with a few never change, but when friends lets forgive and move ahead.

    hey USha how is OMKARA,i hear based on othello...

  20. Usha Says:

    Inder: We all adapt to our office rules only as grown ups - don't we do things if there is a penalty or if it will affect our record. And punctuality is not difficult to cultivate - all it requires is better management of time and a little sensitivity to others.

    M j: exactly the way I feel about it.

    Malini: I hope you meditate regularly - otherwise this stress could be very harmful to you. How do you cope with it? I would have ulcers in your place!!
    I have read similar comments by actors from the south who go to act in mumbai. I think it is definitely an attitude problem and the traffic issues have just made it even more convenient for them.

    Siddhu: Shameless ! but I noticed that you were always ahead of time for your meeting with everyone else. And you thought I hadn't noticed!

    Passerby: I think in their own interest so they don't repeat it with others and in professional meetings, we must express our displeasure when friends are not punctual.
    Omkara - all the actors played their roles very well and fitted the roles. Saif was brilliant. or a great review of the film by my favorite film critic Baradwaj Rangan @

  21. rebel Says:


    I can totally identify with you. I am the kind of a person who walks in 10 mins prior to the meeting time (be it formal or casual) and I know of people who claim that they ll reach in 10 mins and come close to an hour later. The most irritating part is that they have no sense of remorse and do not apologise either. They assume that it's 'cool' to be late.

  22. Mahadevan Says:

    Having been used to wait for hours to hear the political leaders in election meetings, at the Dentists, dotors and Hair dressers, we have lost all sense of time. We fail to recognise the fact that by being late, we insult the person waiting for us. The best way to be puctual is to plan time backwards. If to meet someone at 9, we should also think where we would be at 8.30 and 8.00.

    Northkote Parkinson, provides a solution. Fix the appointments at 9.28 and 3.46 and everybody would be in time, attaching some significance to the odd timings.

  23. passerby55 Says:

    A happy Ganesh Chaturthi to you and your family ....

    was on my way from Preeta's blog. stopped to wish you too.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Hi usha, it would be interesting for me to hear your take on my comment..while being on time is a necessary evil many times..for example, you might miss a train or a flight, 'sweating, fretting and fuming' while waiting to collect people for your movie is an unnecessary stress 'specially considering that you did reach on time after all! ofcourse, your friend shd have apologised for being late..
    sticking to time is a cultural thing as somebdy pointed the olden days, for us in India, time was measured by seasons rather than minutes, i think...malegala, chaligala, etc, and the attendant rituals of everyday life that went with was perhaps much less stressful..given this historical background, perhaps we cannot judge our cultural values by 'german' standards..

  25. Usha Says:

    R E B E L: "Cool" to be late? Even hearing about it gets me worked up.

    Mahadevan:It is just a problem of attitude - if we think something is important we always find a way to be punctual. That is an interesting one about odd timings - will try it!

    Passerby: Thanks. Hope you had a good time celebrating the festival.

    Usha the second: Do you realise that I could have easily left 20 minutes later if I wasnt picking up these people? And those 20 minutes meant I had to get up half an hour earlier to finish all my work before leaving.
    I expect some appreciation for my time and effort. Otherwise i do fret and fume. I dont make a living chauffeuring people.
    When we are capable of absorbing absurd customs like valentine's day into our custome, learning a good value like punctuality wont do us harm. Time management is a good management principle too!

  26. Mohan Says:

    Legend has it that Air India flights were so punctual during the days of JRD Tata that ppl used to set their watches and clocks in Europe based on the landing and take off times of AI flights there. Whether this is true or not, it demonstrates that ppl's attitude to time can be changed. Its just that you need to be self-disciplined to understand that time, unlike money, once lost can never be recovered. And atleast have the minimum decency to apologize when you were late depending on whether circumstances were within your hands or not. I know its massively disgusting to see a friend not apologize for being late, but a mild telling off would do the job. I got a proper dressing down from my friend some months ago for making her wait. The word she used to describe what kind of person she felt as is too offensive to be used here. Hence, I would not repeat that word but it gave me such a terrible shock that I decided, given my patented tardiness, I am probably better off not meeting her. Hope I didnt sound rude..:)

  27. Anonymous Says:

    you know usha, i am not arguing that time management is not a good principle where it really matters, ..that is why i was trying to differentiate between things like say missing a flight as opposed to a movie at a local cinema house which can always be taken in later :-)
    i think that when peoople are steeped in the history of a culture over generations, it becomes hard to change attitudes very quickly..for example, my european colleagues are amazed at the way the hired taxis drive on Indian highways and the lack of seat belts.. while i know in my head that what they are saying is right, it is not important to my heart comments on a historical perspective are from this sense and in this sense they apply as much to valentines day as (un) punctuality ...that again doesnt mean that i disapprove of people who want to celebrate valentines day..each to his own and if they have fun doing it, so be it.. but i find it interesting to relate the (rapidly changing) scenario here to that perspective sometimes and wonder..

  28. Anonymous Says:

    sorry, that was me

  29. Usha Says:

    Mohan: I agree that people's attitude to time can be changed. That is a very interesting piece of information about Air India under JRD.
    hehehe, about the friend's reaction but I believe if you valued her friendship you would still try to change your behaviour and not take shelter behind your habitual tardiness and stay away from meeting her.

    Usha II:
    I agree with you that there may be occasions when we need not get over- stressed about the minutes and seconds. As long as it does not affect others one can take things easy according to their priorities.
    Secondly I do not agree that our culture has not been oriented towards precise timings - have you not observed how particular we are about the Muhurtam timings and good times and bad times ( like Rahu Kala).
    I think we are very capable of observing them if we are forced to and when we think it is important or necessary. That is why I get annoyed when my time is not considered that important.