Timepass and Boredom

HT Justin Pickard, Timepass and Boredom in Modern India.

This seems very similar to Robert Levine’s The Geography of Time in spirit, but more of a drill-down into a particular regional kind of time.

Boredom is experienced in relation to modern clock time.  Time drags because it seems to pass much more slowly than the clock or calendar says it should.  The ‘traditional’ time of pre-modern India is different, however, and Nita Kumar, who worked among artisans in Banaras in the 1980s, has captured it as well as anyone.  Banaras people, she says, are notorious for their unpunctuality and never care about waiting.  But that is not because ‘time has no importance for these people.  It is rather that time is too important; it cannot be sacrificed for this or that purpose arbitrarily; it has to be lived to the full, every bit of it …  There is no hurry, no sense of time slipping or flying by, or rushing by like a stream: there is no such thing as “time”.  It is not an external that controls you.  It is inside you in that it is a way of feeling.  The way you feel, what you are moved to do, is what time it is.’[11] At first glance, the Banaras artisans’ outings and recreations look like old-fashioned forms of timepass.  But they are not; not only is timepass about time dragging, rather than flying by, but more crucially it is about time as pointless, external and controlling – which is exactly the opposite of the traditional sense described by Kumar.

The article is about the idea of “timepass” in India, what Americans might call “killing time.” The author traces the term to around 1990, but I vaguely recall hearing it well before that. In Bombay at least, in the specific context of peanuts sold as an idle-munching snack (the street vendors call out, “timepass” so it is a synonym for roasted peanuts), I think it goes much further back.

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  1. Of course, “timepass” was definitely a multi-hued word that was very much part of the official lexicon in Bombay, at least, if not India, in the 1970s. In fact, in the early 80s college students used to coin variations like GTP (for general timepass) and STP (special or specific timepass).

    The different meanings intended for the word were indicated by the tonal variations. A “cool” person could be described as “a timepass”, an average entertainer movie could be reviewed as being “just timepass”, one could angrily retort, “I didn’t come here for this kind of timepass!”