Thursday, December 06, 2007

3. TIME - The power

(c) By Harendra Alwis

As much as governments today rigorously guard their atomic clocks and dedicate their best infrastructure to the dispersion of the most permissibly accurate reading of time, kings and emperors of the ancient world commissioned their best mathematicians and astronomers to fine-tune their Calenders. The narrative of the calendar has its humble beginnings over six thousand years ago in Egypt. The Egyptians had a cleverly calculated calendar that was divided into 365 days which consisted of 12 months of 30 days each, three weeks of ten days in each month and 5 ‘wondering’ days.

Calendars held much more significance in ancient China than merely as a way of accounting time. It was a crucial instrument of governance for consecutive dynasties. The first decree that a founder of a dynasty set forth was to pronounce the calendar of the new dynasty together with the element and the colours corresponding to it. At a time when civilization was not technologically sophisticated enough to invent the mechanical clock, it was the calendar that synchronised the lives of their subjects who were scattered across distances that took days, if not months to cross. Kings and emperors of the ancient world therefore, partly derived their power to rule through the calendars they endorsed. It is only the logical transition of history that decrees governments of today to spend as much effort on regulating the clocks that synchronise the lives of their subjects.

It is only narrow judgement and naivety however, that would scorn ancient kings or democratic governments for subjecting their people to the unforgiving rule of clocks and calendars. Synchronisation is a critical necessity for life in organised communities. Our lives today are synchronised by the faster and more conspicuous ticks of a clock than the slow progression of days, weeks and months of our ancestors. Life in their age would have been different from ours, but only by the degree and scale of their obsession with time compared to ours. They would have consulted their Calenders to find days, weeks and months, as we consult the clock to make sure we are in sync with its seconds minutes and hours before we embark on even the most trivial of our daily tasks.

The tragedy of our slavery to time lies not in the fact that it has synchronised our lives with the greater community, but in the fact that perhaps some of us gaze at the clock face far more often than we do the faces of people – even those we love and care for - and for longer. We not only wear the time on our wrists, but even assign high status to those who wear the most sophisticated and expensive watches. The tragedy of our modern conception of time is that even though we erect clocks at the busiest street corners and ration the time we share with loved ones, we fail to even notice how intimate and ingrained our relationship with time is. That is perhaps the only reason why it is not surprising, that the seconds, minutes and hours that tick away on a clock face has more control over our lives than anything else or anyone. Time dictates the function and pace of the organizations we work for and especially in a country that is obsessed with astrology – even the governments that we elect.

No comments: