Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Are Indians habitually late?

I was reminded of this when I wrote about the book “Made in Japan; Sony” by Akio Morito in my previous post. One line in that book really shook me and made me feel very low. Akio Morito was speaking about the Japanese discipline and he gave this example: The day after the Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan, things, as one might expect, were in total shambles. Just imagine what it would be like to be in the country where nuclear bombs were being dropped! But Morita wanted to travel back his home place somewhere far. Since the whole country was in mayhem, he was unsure about the travel possibilities per se, but just went to the train station to check out if there was any activity. There, he says, the train came bang on time - exactly on the scheduled time. That, he proudly says, is the classic example of Japanese discipline.

That was one of the very few instances when I got goose flesh while reading a book. For once, I really felt ashamed of myself. We Indians have been used to trains coming late, reaching late, airplanes getting delayed, programs starting late, meetings starting late etc that we don’t even expect a perfect service. We’d probably be happy if say a train starts within 15 minutes from the original departure time. We are just not used to this ‘late coming’ phenomenon; we are nurtured, cultured and spoilt in such an environment. Infact, I don’t think I was ever pissed off with something starting late until I graduated out of school, probably because our whole system used to work that way.

Ditto in the company where I worked. Our team was divided between India and the US, and we used to have conference calls almost everyday; even twice everyday during heydays. Although the company was very informal, professional and open, I kind of noticed that folks our side started to get a reputation of joining the meeting after it starts. Once I was conscious of this, I realized that it was almost habitual. Folks on the other side – both Americans and Indians – made it a point to join on time, with very infrequent aberrations. At worst, they used to inform us a-priori that they wouldn’t make it. There was a professional air around the way they worked. But our side was sloppy in comparison, and as far as I noticed, only 50% of us joined on time, and then there were periodic reminders and running-after to catch up with all the folks who either forgot or missed. Agreed that this is entirely my perception and observation, but the thing that stood out was that Indians who were overseas joined on time but we didn’t. It was a different thing that this sometime went too far and we were forced to be on time. Once I was conscious of all this, I made a sincere effort to join on time, and I guess I did a fairly decent job. But then, we all were miserable.

The point I’m trying to make is: we are so used to things (transportation, commitments, meetings) being late that we sometimes stand out when placed in our own color before the developed world. I would ideally hate to believe that we – even the educated folks amongst us - are not as professional as the western world, but as far as my limited exposure and experience tells me, this is what I think is the reality. I'm sure the western world is not perfect and there are a lot of Indians out there who are as professional as it can get, but this is what I noted - and I might be terribly wrong. The good thing about the whole phenomenon is that once we are conscious, it’s impossible to ignore it. And that’s one point behind this post. Having had written about this, I’d like to make a sincere effort to make sure I’m on time, and make sure others are on time. Would also like to hear if anyone has thought about this...


At Wednesday, June 29, 2005 2:50:00 PM, Blogger coolkrishnan said...

point well made...

i have had similar thoughts.

its true that our society is used to this pattern. buses are always late. even tv programs start a few minutes late. Most people are not even aware that this is a problem !

The problem is more at a social level rather than at an individual level. This is asserted by the fact that Indians working in US are far more punctual, as you have mentioned in the post.

a society ruled by aliens for centuries is expected to have more serious social problems. time will heal everything.

btw, do u remember me ? i am ak - friend of vk & co.


At Wednesday, June 29, 2005 2:54:00 PM, Blogger Kaps said...

U r bang on. Even when they are abroad Indian's tend to be late. Some of my friend's have noticed this in their companies as well. It does create a bad impression about the entire Indian community.

At Wednesday, June 29, 2005 5:36:00 PM, Blogger Govar said...

@Ananth: Hope what you say is true: that time will heal everything. btw, Ofcourse, I remember you well. :)

@Kaps: Indians overseas too being late? ... That's some problem for us!

At Tuesday, December 13, 2005 2:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read your blog. my two cents. I am an India working and living in US. I have a lot of fellow Desis in my company. I see a lot of unprofessional attitude from them. and u know what the sad part is. Its always directed towards another fellow India. If it's a non Indian, we are the most professional people on Earth.

At Friday, April 09, 2010 4:04:00 PM, Anonymous Prapanj said...

Rightly said. I have recently written a post called 'Indian Standard Time' touting IST to be always late by half an hour. I hope you would be interested in the inference and hypothesis that I have drawn from my observations. Read it here -
Thank you


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