May 26, 2014 Sujeev Shakya

Keeping Track of Time

In Thimphu, after sunrise at 5am, one has to wait for four more hours before the cafes open and one can get breakfast. Morning walks before 7am can turn into morning jogs as street dogs may not be very kind to you. Thimphu is pretty much in the same region as the Northeast states of India so the sun usually rises at around 4-5am. In Nepal, keeping in view the short days in winter, office timings are truncated so that people in government offices and corporations can leave an hour earlier. However, in the summer, starting the day at 10am means that offices start five hours after sunrise!

In the days before people started to move out of their homes and the concept of work spaces being different from home spaces emerged, people started off very much with sunrise and ended at sunset. In those days of no electricity and primarily engaging in agriculture, the clock did not matter much. With modern work practices and the introduction of a bureaucracy to deliver services, the issue of keeping time has become much more important. People being paid wages according to the time they commit and the evolution of labour rights have translated into time determining everything we do. The rent-seeking behaviour of having a job, especially in government, and the government as an arbiter of time has changed work practices. One starts strategising how to earn the most by doing the least, if you can figure out how to legally spend your time during your supposed work hours.

Saving Daylight

In Kathmandu, many store associates at the many Bhatbhateni Supermarkets behave as if customers are intruding and only increasing their workload. It seems that they would prefer to while away time and earn their bucks without doing anything. Similarly, in restaurants, especially after the introduction of uniform service charges shared by owners about a decade ago, it is not uncommon to find the staff giving you a look that says ‘you are making me do more work’.

Time, experts opine, is a product of a monochronic society and has less bearing on polychronic societies like ours. However, if we are to embrace the systems that dictate the issue of time, like in societies where time is central, we will have to follow suit. We will have to, therefore, explore how we can follow global practices of working around time to increase productivity and reduce costs. The Northeastern states of India actually follow the ‘bagaan’ time, introduced by the British in tea gardens to start earlier. In Kerala and Karnataka, government offices actually begin at 9am and 9:15am, and end at 5:30 and 5:45pm. However, in West Bengal, the bastion of babus and unions, work is between 10am and 5pm—maybe this is where Nepal and its socialism-friendly parties learnt from.

The introduction of a daylight savings time during the summer months, where days are longer with more light, by pushing the clock back by an hour means that office, schools and other establishments can begin an hour earlier. This would not only utilise the productive light hours of the morning but would also provide more hours in the evening for people to use leisure time productively. Energy savings of an hour in the evening, especially in power-starved Nepal, would be a big contribution to the economy. Coupled with this, in winter, there is no need to close offices at 4pm, especially in cities where transportation is available.

Back to Basics

With the evolution of work practices and giant leaps in communication and technology, it is important that we also revisit the fundamentals we take for granted, be it the large number of holidays in our calendar year that is directly impacting our productivity or the way we set our clocks and measure time. We continue to work in the systems and manpower strength designed when most things were handwritten and carried from one place to another in non-motorised forms of transportation. For instance, we still believe in the rubber stamp, which completely negates the process of automation, requiring documents to be printed and stamped. Rather than introducing systems that allow online registration of documents and various authorities taking a look on networked computers, we still maintain a fleet of people who receive documents by hand and carry it from one room to another.

Questioning fundamentals is the need of the hour. The starting point would be to really start examining the possibilities of introducing daylight savings time from next year on. Surely, for this we do not need political consensus or a clause in a new constitution. An examination of the issue, an announcement and its implementation will be enough.

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