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|Volume 11 |Issue 41| October 19, 2012 ||
Maintaining Bangladeshi Time
Aasha Mehreen Amin
When it comes to Bangladeshi time, the phrase 'fashionably late' doesn't really apply. Fashionably late is when someone, usually a celebrity (in our case, at best it is the chief guest, often the honorouble minister) saunters into a party/seminar that is on full swing so that all head turns as the dazzling late guest smiles and then is mobbed by friends, fans and photographers. This is why Shahrukh Khan and wife can come two hours late to the Big Bachhan's birthday bash and still be on time for the paparazzi. In Dhaka, almost everyone is late because of our incredible gridlocks that make sure that any trip anywhere will kill off at least an hour and a half of our time (three to four hours on special occasions such as street agitations when vehicles become the proverbial punching bag). It kind of works out since everyone is almost equally late and the host, if clever enough, will only start getting ready an hour after the time printed on the card. Hence it is not very practical to try to be fashionably late as its exclusivity is lost in the tedious traffic jams that make everyone late, even the caterers and decorators. Where's the snob value in that?
But even before traffic jams were invented, Bangladeshi time was always at least two hours behind. This is why when shops say they open at 9am it usually means 11 am as the shop assistant is stuck in the Gazipur jam and he's the only one who has the keys. It is also why dinner is never served before 11pm which makes people who eat dinner at 8 pm and sleep at 10:30 pm (BECAUSE IT IS A WEEKDAY AND THE KIDS HAVE SCHOOL) go into depression every time they get an invitation.
Conversely, there are a handful of people some may even irreverently call them fools- who continue to live in the middle ages (which is roughly the 70s or 80s in a Bangladeshi time frame when there were hardly any gridlocks) who think it is still necessary, no matter what, to be on time. Sometimes they may even go to the extreme of being early, which is no small feat in Dhaka. These strange creatures will have all the dates marked in the calendar and will prepare for the event, at least a week in advance. The overzealous urge to be on time, however, has certain drawbacks.
For one thing they may arrive at a dinner only to be greeted by an embarrassed household staff muttering that the hosts are in their respective showers and are 'not quite ready'. They may spend a good agonizing half hour scrutinising every painting and knick knack in the living room while the household dog hostilely stares at them the whole time before the host scurries down, visibly flustered by the aborted ablutions. They will realise, only too late that they are the only guest(s) and the host has eyeliner on only one eye and the elation at coming on the dot despite the monstrous traffic, will begin to evaporate. The host may leave again to hurriedly get an aperitif or perhaps finish her makeup and drag her spouse out of the shower, leaving the early guest(s) to twiddle their thumbs all over again.
Once in a while the Late Latif (an expression to describe a person who is incorrigibly late, even by Bengali standards) tries to make amends and takes great pains to be early rather than late. But Fate tends to have the last laugh: LL comes to the venue of a regular meeting that she (Latif can be gender neutral here) has missed for three consecutive times, half an hour early and hence has to find a way to kill time by looking like she is doing something important. Of course all she can do is spend some time in the 'powder room' trying different looks with her sari anchaal, the remaining period can be allotted for some inane phone conversation with a close friend. Finally, when the clock strikes one in the afternoon, she gets up to elegantly walk into the meeting. But it's a different meeting of a different committee and for a few seconds LL is disoriented. Soon enough this feeling of cluelessness transforms into utter mortification when she rather loudly asks, “Isn't it October 20th today?” and someone says, “Er, no, it's October 13th.” It dawns on LL that not only is she early, she is a bit too early, by a week to be precise. In such circumstances a frenzied run for the exit is the best possible option.