Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Notes from the Field: Time in Kathmandu

I received an email from a colleague and good friend, Gina Drew, who has been studying issues relating to access and management of water in India. Concerning Time, she shares following experience:
I'm in Kathmandu. We have load shedding here and I'm taking advantage of the electricity right now. Life revolves around when the lights will come on. People here have about 6-12 hours of cuts a day, done in rotations. We get a list depending on our neighborhood. How is that for temporal freedom? Sometimes the hours are good. Sometimes they are annoying. Most times in the area where I live, the light comes on in the night when everyone is sleeping. Even my circadian rhythms are regularized here so I'm usually out when I could be taking advantage. Thankfully I'm buffered by the outages with a solar powered inverter that gives me enough juice to power the router, a few lights, and perhaps a laptop.

So aside from feeling like a brat for complaining about restaurants that close earlier outside of New York City, I was again struck by (1) the ways in which temporal experiences are constructed and (2) the notion that Time is a local phenomenon. Does Natural Time as defined by the circadian rhythms carry any real weight as a measurement any more? Before clocks, wage labor, and resource regulation, Time was managed by the body's natural rhythms. It was time to eat when you were hungry, and sleep when you were tired or the sun went down because it was either too dangerous to wander about in the dark or it just didn't seem to make sense to do so. Time seems to depend on many more external factors today. We're governed by train schedules, television programs, hours of operation, and in some places, by access to an allotment of resources that let us transact daily life activities. These activities seem to be the standards by which we measure events in our lives. For the people in Kathmandu who live their lives in segments, I wonder if they differentiate between Time (periods of active engagement in daily life activities as permitted by access to resources) and time (periods during which they must occupy themselves otherwise).

Let's hear your thoughts, Readers. I've got nothing but Time (and time, come to think of it).

For more on Time, you can read my other recent posts here.


  1. Is today's Time really so much more external than Yesterday's Time? Today it's part of our cultural lives, inextricably so if one sees culture and interaction with other humans as inseparable from life as eating and sleeping. Can guilt, ambition, boredom, etc. be just as internally motivating as personal body functions?

  2. Good question. And it's one that I'm wrestling with. The answer is yes, potentially. For example, being exhausted, but staying awake and/or working long hours to "get ahead." But I view these as artificial intrusions on Time, meant to manipulate it as opposed to following what may be natural patterns. Perhaps I'll come across something in the readings that will provide a more satisfactory answer.