Late to parties and early to rise

IN AN episode of Fox's brilliant mockumentary sitcom "Arrested Development," a dorky kid without musical talent tries to join a folk band: "So, uh, you know, if you want me on wood block, I can keep perfect time. Some call me 'The Human Metronome.' You notice how I'm always on time? I'm never late for things. ... It's the exact same thing; it's knowing how long things take."

Our stereotypes imply the opposite. Punctual, conscientious people can't clap to a beat, and free-spirited, artistic people get too caught up in the music to make it to the doctor on time.

My dad is of that latter type. I'm sure my father would agree that, in theory, we should be considerate of other people, and that includes not making them wait.

But my father practiced what many first-generation Indians call Indian Standard Time. Depending on which Indian American you ask, Indian Standard Time can mean 20 minutes late, an hour late, or tardy at a length one-quarter of the planned duration of the event.

On a standard Sunday, my mother reminded my father at 10 and noon and 1 that he should be ready by 2, so that we could arrive at the Venkateshes' by 3:30. He said "all right," and continued to cast astrology charts, look up etymologies, and write articles about the history of Hindu rituals (pujas), as my mother grew increasingly urgent in her reminders.

Finally, around 2, my father started to get ready to leave. Around 2:30, my mother, sister and I sat in the Corolla in the driveway, waiting for my father to emerge, finally sending my sister to request that Dad turn the computer off, please, and come with us.

She did all she could to get her family out the door on time. She chose Dad's clothes in advance, prepared any gifts for the hosts, and shouted upstairs that we had better get a move on.

Of course, to get our attention she rounded forward on the time. A clock showing 1:37 became "It's 1:40!" The slippery slope got the better of her, and my sister and I choked on our laughter the day she pronounced, at 1:15, "You need to get ready! It's almost 2!"

I think I've inherited the worst bits from both my parents here; I'm anxious about tardiness but slothful about avoiding it, and I slink into parties hours late while worrying if no one's arrived at my hoedown 15 minutes early. At least I can laugh at myself for once showing up at a party the day after it happened.

But I used to be good at this stuff, back in high school, when my time was heavily structured but I barely perceived my workload as a burden, just as most of us don't curse our own skeletons. (Please overlook that Ray Bradbury story for now.)

Every morning of my senior year, I woke up early to do my physics homework, plugging data into formulae and deriving results as though I were so many Excel macros. I put my alarm clock on the other side of the room to force myself to wake up before the rest of the household, before all the distractions of the day began.

I listened to Diane Rehm's NPR interview show turned down low as I sat on my floor with my back to the bed. A small pool of light from my bedside lamp cast the corners of the predawn room into shadow.

And one morning, Robert Fagles spoke to Rehm about his new translation of Homer's "Odyssey." He read the first verse in English, and in the original Homeric Greek.

At this point speech failed me. This learned academic, repeating Homer's chant from thousands of years ago, transfixed me. I could neither move nor think.

It was liquid, holy, full of melody, glory shining through its meter.

I could not have heard that heavenly, musical speech had I slept in. And it would not have been quite right except in the yellow lamplight just before sunrise. Being on time is fine, but being early has its moments.

Sumana Harihareswara writes each week for Bay Area Living. You can write to her at