They were there, as usual, sitting with their tools on the steps of the entrance to the closed shop. It was still 5 AM and the shop itself would come to life four hours later. Men and women, who were more fortunate than them, were trickling on to the streets for their morning walks or to get milk for the hot cup of coffee to start their day. Day after day, even on most holidays or festival days, these labour women would be up much before 5 AM and report for duty on the steps of the closed shop sharply at 5 AM. They may not know how a cup of hot coffee or tea tastes in the morning. Their breakfast probably was met out of the leftovers of the food they cooked on the previous night. The tractor would show up in a minute or two and take them with their tools to begin the day's work. They do not know their place of work on that day or any other day. The tractor is their destination and the tractor driver knows the final destination for the day's work. Their work would end just before sunset and wages for the day would be paid to them. On the return journey, they would again be dropped at the morning pick up point. Then they get back to their roadside temporary hut after buying the day's requirements and cook their supper. They sleep well after the meager supper. They are fortunate not to know what is "sleeplessness". They are not lucky to know what is "Provident Fund" or "Earned Leave". They need not spend on beauty creams and hairdo mainly because they cannot spend on them. It is difficult to guess their age; they look forty even when they are just twenty.
The six women labourers from North Karnataka do not know what is being late to work. What they know very well is that they lose their daily bread if they are not there at 5 AM. They do not know what it is like being late, because they cannot afford to be late.
They were not there, as usual, while others waited for them. Those waiting for them were losing patience because they were getting late. The vehicle in which they were sitting was parked against the traffic rules, but their was no other place to park. The policeman round the corner may pounce on the driver at any time. The city had come to life long back and the traffic was getting thicker by the day. Everyone was rushing on their two-wheelers or four wheelers or in public transport. Young children were already sitting in their school buses dressed in crisp uniforms looking for the day's excitement at school. But for these who made others wait for them, things were casual. What if they are five or ten minutes late? Heavens are not going to fall. They are not there for the others; others are there for them. After all, they are colleagues; what is the problem in waiting for a few minutes? This is not the first time they are coming late. This is their usual practice. A practice developed because others have allowed them the luxury for so long. Should they change their practice just because some others are annoyed? Let others learn to develop patience. Patience is the first of virtues. Patience prevents tension and heart attack. To be late is their right. They know they can be late because they can afford to be late.
Being punctual is a way of life for many. Being punctual is an anathema to many others. Being unpunctual is itself a way of life for them. "Take life at your own pace" is what they believe in. Even if other lives are affected due to this practice. Some go a step further. They take pride in being late. Sometimes they even say, "Look, we are so consistent. We are always late!"
There is a popular anecdote about Bharata Ratna Sir M Visveswaraya, former Dewan of Mysore. He entertained visitors every day in the morning for a few minutes even when he was in his 90s. He lived actively for a full hundred years. One senior functionary of the Government sought an appointment to meet him. The appointment was granted for 11AM. Sir MV as he was known, was faultlessly dressed and in his study to receive the guest at the appointed time. The guest was late and after waiting for a few minutes, Sir MV went inside the house. Next day, the guest arrived early and waited for the former Dewan. Sir MV met him alright, but gently chided him for two things; being late on the first day and coming without appointment on the second day! Sir MV was known for immaculate preparation for any meeting or delivering a speech. And always being punctual.
Sir MV may be a person too difficult to follow. The lessons are far too many. But the lesson from the six labourers from North Karnataka is simple and easy. Not to be late on any day. Even if you can afford to be late only because you value others time.
Better late than never, they say. But never late is better than that.