When I was five or six, my school teacher instilled in me the importance of the clock. Until then it was a round face on the wall, eye-less, needles circling past numbers one through twelve. Then, all of a sudden, time played into everyday conversation, and making my own clock at home became a school project.
I sat at the dining table on a Saturday morning, moping about the impending workload, all the while outlining a kitchen bowl on crisp board. My mother drew slices of arrows, one short fat and another longer slender with perfect, pointy ends. And even though I was familiar with the workings of a clock, I never figured why they had to have “hands” or why those hands had to be one over the other—the shorter one always on top. Regardless, with a pin I pierced, securing them in place, sticking a slice of eraser at the back, for I knew well from experience why that mattered.
That took all morning, with the hour after lunch reserved for penciling numbers on the circular board. It required so much precision, that there was no way a-six-year-old would do it without complaining. Or a cartoon break.
All that hoopla came to an end when on Monday my smiling teacher, approving my effort, gave me a red star.
It meant the world.
She then used the same cardboard clock to teach us how to read the time, making us write as we read—twelve o’clock, half past six, quarter to ten, quarter past nine, 20 minutes past eight—gah, I hated the secret math involved in calculating how many minutes had past or were to an hour. It seemed an unnecessary complication to think of the first half of the hour as “past” and the next half as “to”—as if thirty was the secret number around which the world revolved. As if conspiracy theories would unravel how three with its hunched shoulders and zero with its perfect nothingness made the entire world dance to their tune.
But it was important. A child who told the time well was a child who’d succeed in life. At least that’s what they told us so we’d work hard for the test.
It soon grew far more convoluted, however. As I observed the world around me, I noticed that no one said 23 minutes to ten. They said nine-forty instead. It was’t accurate, but it was close enough. And to my utter dismay, close enough was good enough. Three meagre minutes, give or take, wouldn’t kill us now, would it? Or better yet—some said nine forty-five. Rather be early than late.
I was going berserk. People didn’t stick to the rules. As if the rules were more like guidelines anyway. No one said the time as I was taught to, or as the clock showed it.
Then one day, our clock at home stopped running. “Ma, it’s half past ten,” I called out, rather proud of myself, after breakfast on a Saturday. She was making chicken and wanted to know how long it’d had been since the bird fell in the pot.
Hours afterwards, I glanced at the clock again—the chicken now eaten and almost digested—and it was still half past ten.
Oh, the horror.
Not only were people not telling the time right, time itself no longer showed it right.
Ah, stupidity of a six year old. Some even call it innocence.
And then everything changed. From being so important in life, to life, time became… convenient. My father set his clock five minutes faster than everyone else’s. My watch matched the school’s recess bells, my mother followed our good ol’ clock in the living room, and my brother in his room, had clocks from America, UK, Australia, and India.
From being dictated by time, we had for once conquered time, manipulating it into our disposal.