According to a recent survey, couples have 30 rows a year over punctuality. That is around one row every ten days — which seems to me to be a very low figure, given the number of rows we have had over this issue in the past three-plus decades. (While I am willing to admit to the frequency of those flare-ups, I try to blank out the rancour and acrimony that went along with them — so I can keep going from day to day. On my own time schedule, of course.)
As a newly-wed, I remember being wide-eyed with wonder when the intricacies of “being on time” were explained to me by fellow army officers’ wives. My husband of a few months had somehow neglected to discuss punctuality with me, perhaps because he and I were living in different towns initially and only met at weekends.
But once I joined him and we were a part of the military order, suddenly, timing was all-important. “Whether it is work or it is play, we have to be punctual,” I was told — and my heart sank.
Punctuality was something our parents had tried to instil in us. But despite constantly having one eye on the clock, they had not succeeded in getting us to understand the concept, and my two older siblings were always late for everything.
They liked to make a grand entrance, it seemed. They termed it being “fashionably late”, but I had learnt from experience that they were frequently well off the mark because we had often missed the bus to school (they had to walk me to the bus-stop), and from listening behind doors, I also learnt that they had even been known to miss trains.
Anyway, with that kind of influence in my background, it was only natural that I should be worried. My idea of punctuality was a totally warped one. There was just no way that I could ever be a few minutes earlier than the specified time anywhere.
While my husband had everything down to a fine art and knew exactly how long he would take to get dressed, drink his tea, or whatever else was required before he left the house, I could never come up with a sensible estimation of how much time I needed.
And thus began the rows over timing.
He would give me a stern look and say, “We’ll leave at 7:45.” And I would look at the clock in my room, which was set ten minutes fast, and the clock in the dining room, which was set 15 minutes fast, and I would work backwards — and be ready and banging on his door, bawling out, “Hurry up! We’re getting late!” from a little before 7:15.
Not exactly the best way to ensure peace at home, was it?
Thus, for all those occasions in the army when we had to arrive on military time, in precise order and sequence, I could never get it right. But, to my delight — and his eternal embarrassment — we were always early enough to wander around the Officers Mess while the organising staff was getting things ready — and then re-enter through the main door at the “right time”.
As for journeys: If our train was to leave at nine in the morning, I had to be on the platform, with bag and baggage, breakfast done, lunch and dinner packed, at least an hour-and-a-half in advance. If it was a flight to catch and the specified reporting time was two hours before departure, my interpretation was another two hours before that. If we went for an evening movie at the club where the seats were on a first-come first-served basis, we had to leave the house soon after lunch ...
Need I say any more?
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.