By Aditi Datta
We may have never made it to Manhattan but rumour, pop culture and the Olsen twins have made us well aware of what a New York minute feels like. Frenetic, unexpected, edge of your seat, holding on tight for the crazy ride, faster than your feet can carry you but slower than your mind’s race to the finish, breathless, headless, purposeful. Exciting. In less than the blink of an eye.
A New York minute is not an absolute measure of time. It is, quite simply, the pace at which a minute goes by. It’s Gone in Sixty Seconds, fast forwarded. On steroids.
And a New Delhi one? I need a minute.
When I landed in Delhi a few years ago, I marched into office with my calendar full and my day planned. Now, I wasn’t expecting things to happen exactly to schedule – I was thinking more Bombay than Broadway. So still frenetic, still crazy, somewhat chaotic. But still, some sign of movement. Until I started hearing those two words that changed the way I was to live my life in this city.
If I couldn’t get an ETA on bigger asks, I could understand that a series of tasks is a tad more complicated to orchestrate. But a photocopy at the corner store should surely take just one minute. So when I was promised, ‘madam, bas do minute,’ I altered my expectations from a swift sixty to a mighty hundred and twenty. Eight minutes of lurking around, a quick call to a friend and an entirely unnecessary samosa later, I was still standing there, without doppelganger of original document in hand. Assuming an unanticipated breakdown in technology, I asked what the matter was. The gentleman behind the counter looked up lazily from his accounts book, reminds the lad standing idly behind the fully functioning photocopier, and says ‘madam, ek minute ka kaam hai.’
Yes, sir. Exactly my point.
After three years that feel like thirteen in the capital, I’ve come to realise how a New Delhi Minute is more flexible than a Russian Gold Medal gymnast.
How was I ever to get things done? How would projects be delivered? How could I shut my laptop at the end of the day, knowing that it was a wrap?
Here’s what I’ve learned. When someone says ‘ho jayega’, more often than not, as promised – it shall be done. When, we don’t know. How, we don’t want to know. But your gas connection will eventually be hooked up. Your phone SIM card will be activated. The A/C repair fellow will show up before the summer is out. Meetings will be rescheduled, but minutes will be noted. The taxi driver may show up late but you will make your flight. Nothing will happen as the clock ticks, but deadlines will be met.
I don’t know how. It just happens.
We’re a nation that measures time based on how long ramen noodles take to cook. We’re a city where nobody we’re meant to meet is ever more than ‘just five minutes’ away. We’re a people who rather ironically give directions in time, not in distance. Left turns come up in ‘bas ek-do minute’, not in 300 meters.
We know when we say we’ll come downstairs in two minutes, it will take an actual four. We’re completely confident that this is understood. It is. You can set your watch by it.
And so if you let go of all control, you wait the agonising wait that the slowest sixty seconds can bring, you accept that EOD means before tomorrow morning’s sunrise, you abandon expectation but never let go of hope, you light a cigarette in the meanwhile, you trust in the unsaid time measurement of the city, it will happen. In a New Delhi minute.