My one association with the middle-class man, has always been a wristwatch.
Actually, it is the visual of a slightly pot-bellied, balding man, wearing a vest that has seen whiter days, seated in the Lotus position – or if slightly better off, on a chair, with an arm resting angular on his thigh – eating his homely meal of rice-and-curry. His wife by his side, patiently waits for each course to gradually deplete, before she proffers more rice, and coaxes is down with freshly melted ghee, and plenty of love. Alternately, his wife by his side patiently feeds their son, fistfuls that are often so big for the little boy’s mouth, that he portions them in three mouthfuls.
But speaking of the wristwatch.
Mostly, it would be silver in colour, and lacking luster – oddly reflective of the man’s struggle with his mediocre means. His struggle, armed with his battered old Bajaj, and usually a government job, with no real career. His struggle, armed with his dreams of a better life for his son and wife; hopes that someday, he would retire as the wise old man that his own father was.
His struggle, armed with his trusted watch, whose life-time is guaranteed by HMT.
Each morning, it is the first thing that goes on as he gets dressed. And through the course of the day, he keeps the watch close to his being. He never takes off his watch, unless while going to bed, making love to his wife or while having a bath. It hangs about his wrist like a consciousness of its own. A band that tracks how swiftly his life ticks away. A second at a time.
The watch is an integral part of his identity. It observes the news he reads, the television he watches, his favorite position on his favorite armchair. To wear a watch means to have a purpose. To be prepared. It means he is ready to don his button-down shirt over his lungi, and stride out on a mission. Anytime.
It means he is a punctual man. A man of values.
On the rare occasion that his watch fails him – a faulty strap, a dead battery – he feels incomplete. Haunted by its shadow – a pale patch in its shape, imprinted on his skin.
He owns this watch with a kind of fidelity. His associations with it could easily last a good twenty-five years, till his son decides to replace the archaic, ugly thing with a swank one with many corks and screws, with his first pay-check. Touched, the old man puts away his former time-keeper, for this trendy, young friend, who now accounts not just seconds, but milliseconds and tinier units of the time that slips away from his mortality.
And then he parks himself amidst friends and co-walkers-in-the-park, talking of the time that is left, how much shorter it just got because of his ailing heart, how time has turned, and youngsters who owe their elders no respect.
He then proceeds to smugly tell the time. His friends are awed by this showpiece.
He explains. A prize from his son. Software Engineer.
They aah in response.
It’s late, he gushes modestly. He must hurry.