5 Minutes, Indian Time

I’ll start my blog post by giving a little background on these past few days. I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Darjeeling in the Himalayas, which took my breath away with its beauty and majesty. The region was like a different country within India, and I could go on and on about the hospitality of the people and the way they made me feel wonderfully at home. But I’ll save that for another day. The rest of this post is dedicated to what happened once I returned to Bangalore.

On the flight from Bagdogra airport (a tiny building with one terminal that was actually just a modified army base which allowed for the occasional civilian plane landing) to Delhi, the thought crossed my mind that if the plane went down, I would plan my escape strategy around saving my laptop, which contains so many of my memories and stories and photos and writings. I scoffed at the safety card that explicitly told me not to bring any belongings if an emergency occurred. I convinced myself that my laptop is essentially who I am. Fortunately, nothing of that awful magnitude happened and I arrived safely back to Bangalore. I can’t say the same for my laptop. The next day at work, it simply would not turn on nor would the battery charge. None of the remedies we researched online could resuscitate it either, which led me to believe there was something seriously wrong with the mechanical internals of my loyal sidekick. There are conveniently no Apple stores in India, so I had to go to the equivalent of a Genius Bar in a tiny nook of a shop called Imagine. I was told that “our engineers will diagnosis the problem in three days” and my laptop was confiscated. I could almost hear its terrified whirring as it got shuffled into an unlit back room with stacks of other dejected and misshapen electronics. Three days! In a city teeming with engineers! That means limited access to email, world news, Microsoft Office, and Spotify for almost the same amount of time it would take for me to finish Gilmore Girls on Netflix. The separation anxiety immediately kicked in. I’m writing this post on Kat’s laptop, which she so kindly lent to me in my moment of darkest despair.

I recounted the anguishing series of events to my other friends at work, and when I got around to explaining my logic on escaping from a doomed plane, Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and joked that I needed to get my priorities straight. I laughed good-naturedly, but a little voice in the back of my mind asked, “isn’t every joke a half truth?”


It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been in India for eight weeks. I hadn’t realized how much this country has changed me until today. I remember one of the most frustrating culture shocks initially was that nothing happened on time. Our Ola app would indicate that our driver was five minutes away, but he was bound to only arrive after fifteen minutes. Our coworkers would schedule lunch for 12:00pm, but wouldn’t saunter in until 1:30pm. Our meetings would start “in thirty minutes” which essentially translated into “some ambiguous time this afternoon—keep your calendar clear”. We called this phenomenon “Indian Time”. We began to habitually say, “I’ll be there in five minutes, Indian Time” or ask, “do you mean 1 minute, Indian Time?” Our Indian friends at the office always chuckled, perhaps a bit sheepishly, at this quirk. After two months in this country, I’m now finally realizing that the concept of Indian Time is more akin to a way of life than a tendency to be late. In fact, “being late” is a very Western construct. Indian Time is the acceptance that everything happens for a reason, and incidents that are meant to be, will be. There’s no need to rush a system that is already perfect. It stems from a belief in the inherent oneness of the world, and it teaches patience, faith, understanding, and serenity. There will always be tomorrow, so today should be lived to the fullest. This was a liberating epiphany. I risk sounding extremely cheesy, but nonetheless I will write it for the sake of accurate blogging: for the first time in my life, I could consciously choose to not feel rushed and flustered because I could truly believe that things will work out in the end.

I slowly began to love the phrase “no issues”—which ironically usually foreshadows a large, looming problem on the horizon with no discernable solution—because it’s intricately connected to the concept of Indian Time. My faith in letting things run their course was reinforced by seeing again and again that what my Indian friends promised would indeed come true. We never faced a challenge we couldn’t overcome. Allow me to give a few illustrating examples. We don’t have a mode of transportation from Kodaikanal to Munnar? No issues (we spent ten hours on three different government buses, but we arrived in one piece). We can’t hike back to the park entrance unless we negotiate a rickety bridge with missing planks? No issues (we made it across with just a handful of heart-pounding moments). My flight is taking off in an hour from Kolkata and my cab just sputtered to a stop in the middle of a busy intersection? No issues (my driver handed me off to another random cab and I arrived just in time to cut the lines at security). I learned to relax more, to take in and process the present more, and to enjoy living more.

I feel happier and less stressed than I had been in a long, long time. Maybe that’s why the panic of losing my laptop caught me so off guard. I pondered Elizabeth’s words after we parted, and it became clear to me that my attachment to my laptop, and everything it represents—schoolwork, job interviews, extracurricular obligations—is perhaps not as mentally healthy as I had always assumed. As much as I had grown to admire (and dare I say, to utilize) Indian Time, a part of me has never let go of rigid punctuality and cold efficiency and vague fears. I’m starting to believe that after having those morbid thoughts about plane crashes and emergency exits, this whole incident is a divine intervention to remind me of how great my emotional and intellectual growth has been since first landing in India. This is the final blazing hoop I have to leap through. Of course, I’ll never replace the significance of my laptop in my heart with an ambiguous concept of Indian Time, but I can reduce the stressors and negative mentalities that fuel cycles of worry and dread. I can also learn to live without a piece of metal that occasionally runs some complex algorithms. My laptop will be returned in three days, Indian Time? Tikay, no issues.

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About Tina Gao

I'm currently in the class of 2018, concentrating in Finance and Social Impact with minors in International Relations and Religious Studies. I'm delighted to be interning with Janalakshmi in Bangalore this summer!