On time – Only for a week! A must-change!

Thursday, 18 April 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

We are in April and the month where we witness the declaration of a new year as per our traditional practice. It is that period of time when a huge majority of our population, which certainly can be counted in millions, intends to act in unison and quite consciously too. 

Time settings like 2:09, 2:42, 3:54 and 7:40 are not an issue for stopping or starting an activity. In fact we would be quite specific about knowing the time to the exact minute and any mistakes in action may cause serious worries too. We keep an eagle eye on the clock or for an announcement over the media or to identify with the bursting of crackers as the time to act. 

Now technology has come in, making the process even smoother. Kohokoho, an app that I downloaded to my mobile, ensured that I will be able to keep to the absolute time and with a brief explanation of why I should be behaving like that – the charithra! 

You will be cajoled to savour traditional cookies made for the period via another apps – savour the kavili from Instagram or Facebook posts. Some children may actually indulge in traditional Avurudu games on their tabs perhaps much counter to what the tradition expects. 

The specific timeliness by the population certainly must be a world record of sorts. Eating the same thing, wearing the same colour, and facing a unique direction at one particular time has to be considered special. It also demonstrates that we the Sri Lankans can work according to the clock and together as well. 

When this week in April passes into history, then why do we have to usher in the usual sentences and excuses ‘this is Sri Lanka,’ ‘Nobody will come on time so let’s go a little later’? The first sentence in a meeting is an apology for starting late, etc. 

I am also aware of almost a joke from the past, that while standing on the railway station platform when you see a train which looks like it is arriving on the dot, you are informed that no it is not a train on time but one that is 24 hours late! 

Religiously understanding only the value of climbing up a grease pole and indicating proudly that one is keeping the traditions alive come what may is not going to be of much help if we do not understand the direction in which we are heading – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

Well, things most certainly have improved with railway from the past with multiple apps available to serve me well. I am not exactly bemused by this thought and the realisation that for more than 50 weeks of the year the norm that we espouse is usually not on time! Why do we carry the stigma of Sri Lankan time and the light-hearted attitude towards keeping to time? Yet we can quite easily ensure that we can fit in well to a unique rhythm guided by some fixed times as well. 

The Sinhala-Hindu New Year time in Sri Lanka demonstrates a population more or less showing excellent discipline. We tick with the clock with the usual smile on our faces. It is again the same smile that will appear during the other 50 weeks when we remark that this is the way things happen here too. Something is not quite right. 

If I do not eat kiribath quite specifically prepared as per a set of recommendations at 3:54 facing east I am not quite sure my next year is going to be exactly prosperous. I wonder if I do wait till 18 April 4:52 in the morning to head towards my workplace as that is the time recommended to leave for work in the New Year that I do not have to apply for leave as times do indicate how I should start work.

I like the new compass feature in the app specially prepared for us. However, the direction required means I may have to go through the window of my house, and that is a bit disturbing. Yet this time I leave the house even perhaps before the dawn break I am not quite sure of finding the bus to take me to the office at that time – that may mean killing time in the bus stand as only the time of leaving is indicated with all the other factors not specified. 

I am informed as I write this that there is 16 hours, 53 minutes and 29 seconds to go for the anointing of oil and my final bath for the last year happened on 13 April. May be this once-a-year series of events is there to reinforce in our minds and in our activities the importance of time and discipline. 

Nakath certainly must have risen from the need to ensure the habit of discipline and the respect for time. However, over the years we appear to have lost both discipline and respect for time. 

My old school motto comes from the Dhammapada – Appamādō amatapadam. I agree with this wholeheartedly – appreciative awareness leads to life. So for me I am more governed by the need for right action rather than waiting for auspicious times for the green light. I have a feeling that I am interpreting the verse a little too practically rather than the way intended. 

I am more in line of such thinking as espoused by the Dhammapada than the astrologer’s display of knowledge with specific times to stop work, eat, and get back to work. I am of the opinion that when time is lost, we lose that resource forever. Time cannot be recycled nor up-cycled, to use the jargon more in use today. 

The rituals performed during the festive period include new clothing and new coats of paint on houses, renewal of neighbourly links as well as renewing relationships. I do have a question – why the absence of some retrospective meditation? A new year is heralded and Sri Lankans will go on to greet each with ‘Happy New Year’ for the second time in the course of one year. Do we ever contemplate on the past year and take any lessons from the past practices? 

Religiously understanding only the value of climbing up a grease pole and indicating proudly that one is keeping the traditions alive come what may is not going to be of much help if we do not understand the direction in which we are heading. Not understanding the pitfalls ahead, most certainly created from the actions of the past, I cannot seriously believe that they can be wished simply away by adhering to an auspicious time. 

Past experience should simply repudiate such thinking. Yet we happily practice without much consciousness only demonstrating attachment sans meaning. I understand the rituals adding colour but we and society cannot grow only with colour. 

I would like to paraphrase Oscar Wilde who stated that the average give society its substance, the exceptional its value. With mounting debt and with perhaps the Sword of Damocles hanging over the economy seriously strangled by corruption, etc., it is behaviour that is exceptional that is wanted at this time. It is that retrospective meditation that I called for.

I spent ‘nonagathe’ and afterwards reading quite an interesting book by Ajit Kanagasundaram, who has been a shining star in Singapore and my awareness of quite a few things changed much as a result. I must admit that I have not being a naïve native living in the confines of an island yet the comparison stated from a position of understanding of both systems literally blew my mind away. 

The book is titled ‘A Tale of Two Countries and Other Essays’ and considers Sri Lanka and Singapore. I do hope the book has been translated to Sinhala as Ajit indicates and is available. It is not full of motherhood statements but a straightforward comparison of the author’s experiences translated into actionable suggestions. 

Taking contents of the other book that I am reading in parallel ‘Why Nations Fail’ by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, the combo should make a nice gift to anyone who cares about inclusive development. Daron and James give a superb example of a Mexican village now on two sides of the US-Mexico border with two completely different situations and indicate the importance of institutions rather than genes and cultures. 

Now more time has passed and I have to disobey the recommendation with regard to leaving to work. I must be at the work station tomorrow and that means I will be taking the bath early as well without the application of Nanu! I did engage in some thinking to consider what I did not do right last year and especially with respect to my own personal timings to work and other activities. One aspect that keeps pushing me is in joining the 5 a.m. club and let me test that as a resolve!