Spice of life: Watching over time

  • Dr Kirti Dua, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Apr 13, 2015 19:31 IST

Time has been important for ages and that’s why man has devised various ways and means to keep time. Sundials at the Konark Sun Temple in Orissa and five Jantar Mantars across our country are testimony to this. These centuries’ old monuments were intended to ascertain the time of the day, correct to half a second.

The clock tower is an important landmark in most Indian cities, whereas the Big Ben in London is world famous. Today, there are hi-tech fields where even a nanosecond is significant but here is a journey back in time, say some 50 years ago when people had fewer watches but more time.

I was five years old when I got my first watch for 10 paise from a balloon seller. The toy watch had a small knob on the circular dial to control the hand movements. Simply tying it on the wrist would give me a high. I remember trying my best to align the hands of the wrist watch with that of the orange-coloured timepiece that adorned the shelf in our house.

At that time, I didn’t know how to tell the time. My mother tried to teach me but I could figure it out only after learning the multiplication table of five in class.

I got my first real watch on my 15th birthday when I was in Class 10. It had a white dial and was shock-proof. It was an iconic 17-jewel Janata watch from HMT. I was thrilled to discover that I could tell the time in the dark thanks to its luminous dial.

Around the same time, my father got a Ricoh watch in which the main spring was wound automatically as a result of the natural motion of the wearer’s arm. Many a times, my father would forget to wear the watch over the weekend and when he wanted to get started on Monday, the watch would require a lot of shaking. To avoid the hassle, he would end up wearing the automatic watch all the time, even with his night suit on!

HMT also had an automatic model called Kanchan. It was a beautiful golden-coloured 21-jewel wrist watch that was even considered a dowry demand. To buy it, people would line up outside HMT showrooms as early as 5am with a recommendation letter from influential persons.

So much so that it was believed that if there was no Kanchan watch, there were chances that the marriage would not be solemnised!It’s unfortunate that time has run out on HMT, the iconic watch brand that was the most sought after gift till the ’90s. Another legacy of the nation has faded into oblivion.

In the good old days, village households would tell the time with the help of a small tree or a hand pump in the courtyard of the house. It worked on the same principle as that of the Jantar Mantar.

Shadows told the time of the day and by looking at the position of the shadow in the afternoon, the family would decide when it’s time for the evening tea. In landlord families, only the head would have a watch and whenever required, the farm labour would enquire about it from him.

Yes, that was certainly an era when people had fewer watches but much more time on hand.

The writer is a teacher at Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana

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