“Time you old gypsy man, will you not stay? Put up your caravan just for one day?
These lines from a poem learnt by rote in school, still remembered. Time had a different connotation when one was just fifteen. It was more about the “present”, and something one needed to cram in all the activities of teenage life. Today with several decades behind one, Time is more about looking back, while Time the old gypsy man seems to be flashing past at the speed of light.
Today we live “by the clock”. Not only are our daily activities monitored by the clock, we depend on Apps to remind us to get up, to drink water, and to call our friends. Interestingly, the regular linear time line, cut up into days and weeks, is barely two and a half centuries old. In ancient times, time-keeping was more of an art than a science. People in most old civilizations relied on natural events–the turn of the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon as some ways to measure time. Different cultures had their own ways of measuring time.
The concept of time has always been relative and contextual. An essay that I read explores these dimensions of time through different cultures and history. Titled Cartographies of Time, the two-part essay by authors Jonny Miller and Dorothy Sanders is fascinating reading. Sharing some excerpts.
In Madagascar if you asked how long something was going to take, you might be told it would be “the time of rice cooking (about half an hour) or “the frying of a locust” (a few minutes).
For monks in Burma there is no need for alarm clocks. They know when it is time to get up when “there is enough light to see the veins on their hand.”
The Andamanese, a tribe that lives on the Andaman Islands have constructed an annual calendar built around the sequence of dominant smells of trees and flowers in their environment. Instead of living by a calendar, this tribe “simply smell the odours outside their door.’
The Amondawa tribe that lives in the Amazon Rainforest have no specific word in their language for ‘time’ nor do they determine any discrete periods of time such as a month or a year. They only have divisions for night and day, and rainy and dry seasons. Even more intriguing is that nobody in the community has an age. Instead they change their names to reflect their stage of life and position within the community. What a wonderful way to go through life, rather than our obsession with the number of candles on a birthday cake!
The fact remains that time, at least the way we understand it today, is always passing. But what we make of it, is entirely up to us.
As the Dalai Lama has said: “Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend, or a meaningful day.”