Mahatma Ghandi and His Timepiece
Mahatma Ghandi was a political ethicist and activist who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule and colonialism in the turn of the century — his stance and actions helped inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
A peculiar fact about him was that his watch never left his side. It was the first thing he reached for when he rose each morning and the last thing he checked before going to bed.
He consulted it frequently throughout the day so that he was never late for an appointment or meeting. His pocket watch, which cost just a dollar, was among the handful of material possessions he owned. Since he didn’t have a pocket to carry it in, he attached it to his dhoti with a safety pin and a loop of khadi string.
Gandhi’s legendary punctuality had a utilitarian imperative — without it he would never be able to answer the bags of letters and streams of visitors that demanded his attention each day.
“We are trustees of our time,” was his belief. “You may not waste a grain of rice or a scrap of paper, and similarly a minute of your time, one who does less than he can, is a thief.” During his stints in jail as a prisoner of the Raj, he often wrote more than fifty letters a day — even when his thumb ached and his elbow was numb — he remained consistent.
He partitioned his time effectively for all of his daily activities, such as spinning, reading, cooking, and cultivating his passion for astronomy. He was known to apologize even if he was even a minute late and was unsparing of tardiness from any of those around him.
On one occasion, he and his eldest grandson Kantilal, were on a train together, traveling third-class as was his usual custom, when Gandhi — who was busy writing letters — asked Kanti what the time was.
Kanti looked at his watch and told him that it was five oclock. The old man’s eyes slanted to the watch on Kanti’s wrist and noticed that there was a full minute to go before five.
He stopped writing his letter and exclaimed, “Is it five?”
Kanti replied with a guilty conscience, “No, Bapu, it is one minute to five.”
The old man responded, “Well, Kanti, what is the use of keeping a wristwatch then? You don’t respect the truth as you know it. Would it have cost more energy to say: ‘It is one minute to five’, than to say ‘It is five o’clock?’”
Thus he went on rebuking the boy for a good fifteen minutes until it was time for his evening meal.