About Time Wasting

I can never get used to the concept of wasted time. I know the common way of thinking that one has a sort of fixed lifetime, and if a period, however brief, was spent not pursuing something meaningful, it is a waste. However, if one looks beyond the obvious, there are couple of questions to ask: How do you know how much time you have to live? And, how do you know you have not pursued a meaningful goal unless you tried?

If these questions sounded silly, let me try harder. I spent a few minutes this afternoon sitting in Tavistock Square. I did nothing: It was a beautiful afternoon, warm and sunny, the very best British summer could be. Olympics have scared away the tourists, in fact pretty much everyone, from London, so it was quieter and emptier than usual. I did not read, or think of anything. There was the statue of Gandhi, sitting as if in meditation, to look at, but I did not particularly notice him today. I was waiting, indeed, for a phone call, which was to tell me what to do next. But I could have done something meaningful. For example, I could have walked up to the University College, where my next appointment was, thereby saving time. Or, I could have got another drink at Jacques, the wine bar next to the square, and spent a few more minutes talking to my current guide to the world of private education, Professor C, possibly picking up some useful information. This was time wasted, in any way one thinks, a few minutes subtracted from my life.

However, I somehow felt those five minutes were added, not subtracted, to my lifetime. For the pause, I may actually live a few minutes longer - what a refreshing thought? My appointment at UCL got rescheduled eventually, so if I tried to walk up to that direction, it would have been meaningless. The visit to Jacques would have given me more caffeine, and may be my life would have been slightly shorter by that. I know all of this is after the fact rationalisation - I did not think of any of these while I was sitting there - and to management gurus and life coaches, it may as well seem like time wasted. However, I disagree.

This is the way I feel: Time isn't a commodity given to me, which I can save or waste. It is rather like air, something I live inside, something I can enjoy or ignore, but can't put in a bottle of some kind. If there is any way of managing time, it is only by gifting myself some time, as sometimes one would walk out of windowless office buildings in search of fresh air (the real fresh air, not the kind smokers among us keep going for every half hour). This is exactly why I can do things which are pleasurable, like writing this blog, but do not have any meaning, at least to those who seem to define all meaning in our societies. I acknowledge that this may actually be the biggest problem many people had with me.

Well, no, it is not that I don't keep time and show up in meeting late and without apologies. Rather, I am quite conscious of time keeping, because I know my turning up late in meetings will not be taken just as evidence for my own sloppiness, but as the apparently irremovable Indianness in me. But it is about those two questions about time - how much time do we have and how one knows what's meaningful without trying - that puts me at odds with conventional wisdom. I may end up looking like a lazy dreamer talking endlessly about tomorrow, as if I have all the time in the world, and rather unconcerned about what I have in the bank and how to 'maximize' my earnings. Funnily, from my side of the fence, those who really live a tightly focused life, well mostly, they look like incredibly short-sighted people with blindfolded imagination, tightly tied to the mule-jenny of possessions and desires, which are neither real or permanent, but all-pervasive and all-consuming, a dungeon with floral wallpapers.

To bigger things, longer commitments than the five minutes at Tavistock Square, which I spent time doing and may have reached a destination other than the one originally planned, the same principles perhaps apply. Having spent last two years doing something, for example, I am today ready to go and do something else: This is possibly what was in my mind, deep down, in those five quiet minutes - did I waste time doing all that I did - an ironic thought for those five idyllic minutes! But, then, in the end, the realisation flashes: How arrogant is even to wish that somehow we can erase the time away, mould everything to an after-the-fact construction of what's meaningful (or not). Life happened to me, in a way, and I was an interested and engaged observer and participant, and this, rather than being the engineer, perhaps, was more enjoyable. I have come to this point again when I take a turn, do something new: But that's not discounting the past, but the simple dialectic of living, with what we do and what happens to us in constant conversation, negotiation and assimilation. In that realm, there is no time to waste - only time to make.



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