“What time is it there?” People ask me that question almost every time they call. When people learned we were moving to India, the first question was, “How many hours ahead is that?” When I replied “10.5,” they seemed puzzled because you cannot have half a time zone. Several people told me that was the most ridiculous thing they had ever heard. I patiently explained that the country covers multiple time zones, and, at some point, they compromised. India Standard Time (IST) is a 30-minute increment instead of an hour increment. A single time zone really stretches across what should be multiple time zones. Maybe that is where the other version of IST comes from: India Stretchable Time.
My first week here, I was complaining about the furniture guy who was supposed to show up at 7 pm not showing up until 9:30 pm. Yes, 9:30 pm, post meridian, at night. An editor from India told me that IST stood for “India Stretchable Time.” In the US, we would find it abhorrent for a contractor be at our house that late. We become irritated when the cable company makes us pick a time range between 8 am and noon. But, in India, time is a relative concept. (Einstein was right.) You can make plans to meet at a certain time, but you cannot plan the outcome that the meeting will take place at the planned time. Many factors go into why people are late here, many of them infrastructure related. The traffic is horrible; the trains are late; a delay occurs somewhere along the line with another appointment. It is not that people do not want to be punctual. It is that forces beyond their control make them late. I am used to living and dying by deadlines; this lateness can drive me crazy. But, gradually, I am starting to realize that everything gets done in its own time: India Stretchable Time.
India Stretchable Time reminds me of God’s time. Everything happens when and how it needs to happen. That does not always mean that something happens when or how you want, but it does happen. It is like 500 jigsaw puzzle pieces scattered on a table. All the pieces create a coherent puzzle, but it can be hard to see the big picture through the chaos of the individual pieces. You start along the edges, and a picture begins to take shape, just an outline. Then, gradually, you add each piece. Some pieces do not fit together even though they look like they should at first glance. Eventually, those mismatched pieces fit with other pieces. And, slowly, the big picture takes shape, and the jigsaw puzzle is complete. It can take weeks or months for you to place the final piece, but when you lay down the last piece, you finally see the big picture.
Today, I see the big picture that timing is everything. People are ready when they are ready, not when you want them to be, but when you need them to be. A candidate search that takes months ends with the outcome you originally hoped for, but just on God’s time, not yours. Eventually, you figure out that the guy who installed your water purifier in your refrigerator did it right. Sure, he needs to fix the leaking gaskets, but you have cold potable water coming out of your fridge. And, did I mention the ice maker works?