Friday, March 02, 2007

Peru, India and the punctuality drive

It was Ecuador in 2003. and it is Peru today that is poised to combat chronic lateness. The Latin American late-running nation has launched a punctuality drive. After hearing the news on the BBC, I wondered when, if at all, we in India would look at chronic lateness as a serious issue.

I have been flogging this message on the web ever since I read in 2004 a New Yorker piece on the campaign in Ecuador. The magazine feature - Punctuality Pays - said, "At high noon last October 1, the citizens of Ecuador did something they'd never dreamed possible, they synchronized their watches". They did four other things:

1) Ran a nationwide poster campaign to convey the message that punctuality pays

2)Public and private institutions - from local councils to major industries - took a pledge to keep time

3) Late-comers were turned away from offices and factories, with placards reading 'Don't Enter; Work Started on Time'

4) And newspapers published everyday a list of dignitaries and public officials who turned up late at public events.

Peru, emulating Ecuador, has clocked in its drive - 'Peru on Time'. At noon on March 1, President Alan Garcia sounded a bell signaling the nation's 28 million people to synchronize their watches. Peru and punctuality have been incompatible; and chronic lateness was often overlooked by Peruvians who considered it an endearing cultural trait.

How Indian, I thought. It's in fact also a very Mysorean trait.

Another similarity between the two countries: nothing in Peru - wedding reception, funeral, social dinner or a business meeting - ever starts on time. Travel guides for western tourists observe that Peruvians expect friends to be late for an appointment.

So tourist brochures advise foreign visitors, rather thoughtfully, not to arrange to meet a Peruvian on a street corner - make it a café or bar. If, for some obscure reason, you want someone in Lima to turn up on time, you will be well advised to stipulate that the meeting is a la hora inglesa (by the English time).

Peru has now officially declared that to be late would no longer be fashionable. The Forum of National Consensus, a government-led council of business and citizens' groups, which is steering the campaign has directed schools, businesses and government offices to stop tolerating 'Peruvian Time", which usually means an hour's lateness. We have such close commonality in our bad habits, Peru and India.

Peru has chosen to do something about it. When will we in India do the same? For a start, wouldn't you like to see our media and corporates sponsor a public interest message recognizing punctuality as a civic virtue that represents respect for the other person's time?

This piece is cross-filed in Desicritics; and evoked following comments:

I understand your concern for this cultural level change. Unfortunately going from A to B involves lot of challenges! Bus, traffic, political rallies. People get used to this and becomes a habit. Make no mistake. I am not justifying this. I am all for coming on time. But it is upto the individual to correct himself in a country like India. Nationwide changes require the concerned people to lead by example which they are never going to do. I myself am guilty of being a little late for some unimportant events. But things like interviews, meetings i am always ahead of time.

Oh, to be late is an institutional thing in India. If you are invited for a wedding and the time says 8 PM, and you reach there at 8, you could literally help in setting the place up.
In fact, at my marriage, the whole procession reached around 30 minutes after the written time, and my bride also was not ready since no one expects the groom's party to arrive anywhere near time :-)

why is punctuality a human virtue? Its likely to help machines when they synchronize activities, communication, etc.
all those poems written about waiting, a waste? :)

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