Friday, March 9, 2007

Indian time

One of the things I was told before I came to India was to be flexible. Well, let me put it this way, my gift for flexibility has been stretched close to the limit!

Nothing ever happens on time. That is to say, everything happens anything up to several hours later than planned. I now know that this has always been the case in India. I’m reading a biography of E.M. Forster and he observed the same phenomenon about 100 years ago. This is not a problem once you get used to it, but every now and then it gets to be a bit frustrating.

For example, my class first thing in the morning never begins on time. This doesn't bother me at all; it's just the way it is. The students start to dribble in between 10:00 am and 10:15 am or so—and continue to dribble in till about 10:30 am. Meanwhile I usually get cracking at about 10:10 am, just because it seems the right thing to do. I’ve even got into the habit of filling in the “dead” time early on by giving whichever students are there a slide show on my computer (which I project onto the classroom wall) of the pictures I’ve taken with my camera. I probably take a couple of dozen pictures a day, so there’s always something new for them to enjoy. They love that, especially when the pictures are of them!

Where it gets to be frustrating is when my boss walks into the classroom unannounced, as she did at around 10:10 am last week. As usual, only about 10 students were there (out of 50), and she looks shocked, like this is the most unusual thing she’s ever seen!! I feel bad; the looks on the faces of the few students who are there show that they are embarrassed, even though this is not unusual at all. Yeesh!

Take right now, for example. I’m typing this blog posting while waiting for a session to start at the International Women’s Day conference. The session was scheduled to begin at 10:00 am. It’s now 10:27 am and there’s not a presenter in sight!

It’s really quite amazing. How do they get anything done?!!

Here’s another example. Yesterday evening, the Phys Ed students were “scheduled” to perform at 5:00 pm as part of a Women’s Day concert. I told them that I would be there for the event to watch them doing their gymnastics.

[An aside from the International Women’s Day conference] OK, it’s now 10:31 am and there’s still not a presenter in sight. I’ll keep you posted as we go along here.

I turn up for the concert at 5:00 pm on the dot. The band’s warming up and a few students have already taken up seats in the front rows, mostly the PE students dressed in their uniforms of white sport shirts, burgundy sweat pants and sneakers. Their presence is a clue that I’d got the right time for the show.

[An aside from the International Women’s Day conference] One of the presenters just turned up, folks. It’s 10:34 am. No one’s on the dais yet.

Back to the concert. I’m combining my evening walk to coincide with my attendance at the concert, so I just do another circuit of the campus while waiting for things to happen. 5:30 pm comes and goes. 6:00 pm comes and goes. By this time, the audience has swelled to a couple of hundred and the band is merrily blasting away with some not unpleasant Indian pop music. I take a couple of pictures of the crowd. Some students run up to have their picture taken with me. Dignitaries are taking up their seats on stage. The students are enjoying the music; a couple of them are standing and gyrating and doing weird things with their arms and hips and legs, as only young things and older drunks dare to do.

Absolutely no sign that the gymnastics are about to begin.
I continue with my walk. Pop concerts really aren’t my scene at all. 6:30 pm; the music rolls on. Another lap; my feet are getting sore.

7:00 pm; I give up and go home. After all, the girls did give me a preview of the show the day before. On the way home, I see the Vice Chancellor’s car turning into the driveway of the VC’s house on campus. She’s the guest of honor at the concert. So that’s who everyone’s waiting for!

[A whispered aside from the International Women’s Day conference] Things might be happening here at the conference. It’s 10:45 am; the dais is still empty, but the ripple of conversation behind me in the auditorium suggests that something’s about to happen. I’ll continue this blog posting later...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I have never met you, I wanted you to know that I very much enjoy reading your posts. As someone who works with students preparing to apply for Fulbright, it is exciting to read of someone living the life. Thank you!