The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, June 29, 2003

Life Ties

‘Late Lateef’ turns a new leaf
Taru Bahl

HE was called Late Lateef by his grandfather because he was forever running late. It seemed as if he had not use for the clock, and being on time was an anathema to him. As a child, his habit of being late could have been ‘cute’ and endearing to his immediate family. But when Arun grew up, it was far from amusing to his friends and colleagues. He was forever running into trouble for being behind schedule. It was almost like a compulsive disorder and while no one doubted his professional calibre and sharp intellect, his sheer inability to alter his time management diluted his standing professionally and personally.

He looked foolish when he arrived at important family celebrations when they were almost over. He would be at the receiving end of sarcastic comments and leg pulling, making his resolve that he would keep away from such gatherings altogether. He didn’t want to mix with people who had nothing better to do than make him feel guilty and worthless. He reasoned with himself, "Why make the effort at all when it is going to be trashed anyway ?" What he did not realise was that over the years his parents, sister and friends had reconciled he would not be able to make it on time and had given up on him.

Making his sister wait for three hours while offering to take her for trousseau shopping at a pre-designated spot in a bustling marketplace had led to a lot of bad breath between the two, especially since she had difficulty warding off eve teasers. On another occasion, he kept her fianc`E9 and his family waiting for a formal dinner by reaching past 10 pm. They had tried to save face by saying that he had an hectic work schedule. The final straw was when he left her honeymoon bookings to Singapore pending till the last minute only to find that all hotels were booked and that they would have to look at another destination. Though Arun made up by sending them to the Maldives and spent more than what he would have otherwise, the sister carried the grudge of being shortchanged by her brother.


Being a late runner all his life, Arun had become adept at cooking up innovative excuses. His gift of the gab and refined sense of humour gave him that little extra leverage that allowed him to get away with it most of the time. People, who had recently come into contact with him, would get taken in by his glib talk. But as they got to know him better, their exasperation would begin to show and would invariably lead to a show-down. While they could understand a stray aberration, they were not prepared to be at the receiving end repeatedly. After all, they too ran businesses and had demanding personal lives but still managed to stick to their appointments and deadlines.

The unfortunate thing was that Arun was a high performer who had the vision and the creativity to make an organisation survive in a competitive environment. He would have liked to believe that he had mastered the Japanese Just-in-Time philosophy which enabled him to submit work at the crucial eleventh hour. Only those who worked with him knew how they were constantly on edge, being on an uncomfortable roller coaster as they tried to adapt to his oscillating rhythms. His bosses tolerated his "madness" simply because he was the best they had. What Arun could not see was that the moment he stopped performing and bringing in the end results, his reputation of being unreliable and irresponsible would take over pushing his other skills into the background. Being a maverick seemed glamorous only till the time he did not end up paying for it with his job or the loss of a relationship. And that day, according to well-wishers, was not very far off.

As a child, he had never been entrusted with major responsibilities. Whenever a task was assigned and he had failed to do it on time or had done it in a chalta hai manner, he was not reprimanded enough. His cute innocent looks and angelic smile made the affected party dismiss the episode, giving him yet another chance to mend his ways. The school he went to had children from affluent families. Bohemian and casual, it was fashionable to speak in a drawl, walk casually, look dishevelled and cultivate a careless persona, which included forgetfulness and late-running. It made a person look helpless and cute and evoked protective feelings. Without realising, he had developed a psyche which did not make him feel embarrassed for keeping others waiting. Besides, he learnt to give interesting explanations as to why he was always behind schedule. He even laughed at his own self while narrating hilarious episodes about his inability to manage time.

What he did not realise was that this was, perhaps, one of the last times he was laughing at his old habit. The girl he married went hammer and tongs after him, making it her mission to "set him right". Since she came from a defence background, she had a penchant for order, discipline and time. For starters, she began to pay him back in the same coin by making him wait at crowded shopping malls, movie theatres and restaurants. A person who had all his life kept others hooked to their watches, was now wanting to be in the good books of his capable and beautiful wife. It was thanks to her intervention that he realised how wrong it was to deliberately mismanage one’s time. From a bachelor’s disorganised household, her efficiency resulted in a home which ran with clockwork precision. It was spartan and devoid of all the mess he had hoarded over the years. Making the environment conducive was only one part of the therapy. By turning into a temporary in-house secretary, she helped him maintain an appointment diary and set up various alarm systems and mechanisms. She made him dispense with his office secretary and impressed upon him to take charge. Not giving him a choice put him in a bind. After the initial resistance, he got motivated and before their first anniversary rolled by he was a changed person. He did not mind the new round of jokes in his circle, which suggested that he was under the thumb of his lovely wife. But he know the difference it had made to his life. He also wanted to earn the respect of his other half. Together they had to share the same outlook towards life and he was going to work hard to make this new habit last a lifetime. People had always appreciated his intellectual knowledge but now he could see a new kind of fondness in their eyes, which seemed to say, "We now have more faith in you."

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