Waiting for Time
The following is a short missive I wrote on the road the other day about that famous concept: India time. It doesn’t directly relate to our story of the Ganges, but I hope you’ll enjoy it regardless.
Sitting, roasting in the hot sun of Uttarakhand, we glance at our watches. The ten minute wait on the side of the road has turned into 45 minutes with no sign of any change. A glance at our local companions elicits only a slight head wobble, the iconic sub-continental indicator of neither a clear yes or no, but rather an acceptance of fate. I look at the group surrounding us – a tough bunch of men, porters primarily, from neighboring Nepal seeking work in the mountains. Women, clad in flowing, brilliant saris, their elegance anathema in the swirls of dust and curious flies. All are nonplussed, delays and changes and upheavels being part and parcel of life; only we are antsy, wanting explanation and movement. But, we wait, and wait, and then suddenly we’re summoned into a jeep clawing its way up the road; we hop on board and are off…to the next wait.
Time passes differently in the subcontinent. Back home, time is a linear concept, thrusting forward with direction and intent from Point A to Point B. Schedules are meant to be kept, and when they’re not, an explanation is not just expected, but demanded. Not so on the subcontinent. To the highest level, time here is a cyclic rather than linear phenomenon. As this life is simply one of a million in the cycle of samsara, or birth-death-rebirth, the Western immediacy of now has little point. The dual engines of fate and karma play a hand here, too: delays happen because of karma; a major disruption was due to fate; the blips and blunders of life which we in the West tend to obsess about are seen as effluvia from the aggregate of our actions, good and bad, and the cosmic interplay of the divine.
There are innumerable things which have drawn me to South Asia more than 35 times in 20+ years. Sights and sounds. Smells and peoples and places and religions and cultures and environments. The unique mix of the utterly foreign infused with the achingly familiar. All those are draws for me. But, it is perhaps time – and the lack of focus on it – which has pulled me more than any. While it leads to frustration, missed meetings, interminable delays, and hours squatting in the hot sun, time also builds bridges. When not focused on time, we enjoy the moment. We relax enough to talk to our friends…and make new ones. We put down our phones for a moment, released from the digital era’s insistence that we post what we doing right here and right now. In short, we stop our endless progression from birth to death and begin to fully live.
As I walked through the ancient market of Vrindavan last night, no one was doing anything. Men sat on the corner drinking steaming chai in the heat, laughing and lamenting. Children played in the street, pushing old bike tires down the narrow lanes with a bent bit of old coat hanger. Stunningly blue, green, and violet saris rippled in the light breeze, their wearers chatting quietly and laughing loudly. Everyone was doing nothing: simply sitting, waiting, and living.