In my previous avatar in Dubai, I had a wall clock in my living room. For a long time, I’d not check time on my phone upon waking up, but walk up to the clock, check out the time, and set the schedule for the day. Say it was 8am. I’d give myself an hour to have breakfast, a shower and a dress-up window to get ready to leave for work. On most days, I’d find it would be 10.30am — on the clock — by the time I was ready to leave. On occasion, I’d double-check the time on my phone, just to ensure the clock wasn’t faulty — but then, if the battery was running out, surely it would wind down its pace and not amp it up?
Where did all that time go?
I had no answers. It’s not that I was terribly slow at making myself an egg-and-toast brekkie, or that I’d take an hour to slap on makeup. So why was I lagging? It used to be a scenario that would set off a chain reaction: for instance, crisp winter days, when I toyed with the idea of walking half-a-kilometre to the metro station to catch a train, would see me frantically trying to flag a taxi because I had a meeting at MoE or Dubai Mall or some other place at 11am sharp.
Time, I told myself, had gone on a fishing expedition.
It came back to me last weekend, when I was talking to my father, and we were discussing (no prizes for guessing) social isolation, and he said something strange. For the past 15 months or so, he’s been on his own, the only “interaction” he has — from a distance — is with his masked household helps who pop in twice a day to cook and clean. But, he said, time has flown despite the “live alone”. A week feels like a day. “The other day”, he sent roast chicken to my brother’s place via an errand boy. Then he corrected himself. “That was actually more than a week ago, yet it feels like yesterday: where is all the time going? I’d have thought living in the shadow of such a challenging situation would make time crawl to a standstill… the opposite seems to have happened.”
I couldn’t agree more. Time has been flying like it’s on an Olympian sprint-winning streak. I’ve not been to Kolkata, where a major chunk of my family and friends’ circle still live, since January last year. It’s a year-and-a-half since I last saw any of them, and I don’t feel it’s been “a while”. It’s been almost six months since I moved back to Dubai; it feels like yesterday. Whenever Facebook or Apple calendar throws up a “memory”, I wonder: gosh, has it been five years or seven years or 10 years already? I swear I believed this happened last year — even though I realise I was locked in for most of 2020 and there couldn’t have been much chances of photo-ops.
The only time I feel time is in slow-mo is when I’m working out. Has it been half an hour since I started my first batch of exercises? Nope. Only 17 minutes, 13 more to go till you get the well-rounded figure.
Of late, I have been thinking of a time in my childhood when we had a help — more a family member — called Rajuddin, shortened to Raju. He was the man about the house, deciding our (my brother’s and mine) routine for the day. When I was seven or eight years old, we lived in a house with a park in front. At 4pm, I’d be taken to the park to play. One day, I wanted to go out at 3pm. “No,” said Raju, “from 3pm to 4pm is my afternoon siesta time, and I will not sacrifice my sleep to entertain you. Wait for an hour.” He gave me his watch. It showed 3pm. “Wake me up at 4pm.”
He crashed on a mattress (that we Bongs call a madoor), next to the sofa, and started snoring immediately. I plopped down next to him, held his watch in my hand, stared at it, and waited for 60 minutes to pass. The moment the hour hand touched the 4pm mark, I started shaking him violently. He woke up and glared at me. “Don’t tell me you were keeping track of time?”
“I was,” I said. “I didn’t realise one hour could be this long. Now let’s go!”