Keeping time in South Asia

June 1, 2008

Pakistan has just moved to daylight saving time, the first country in South Asia to try this to stave off a crippling energy shortage. But will it work ? Or will it make life a bit more difficult for people travelling across South Asia where most countries have their own national clocks, sometimes minutes apart, largely as a mark of national sovereignty more than anything else?

t12.jpg Opinion in the media and on the blogs is divided over Pakistan’s decision to move clocks by one hour until August, with some pointing out that this had been tried
out in the past and it didn’t really work.

“People were  confused and were always referring to dual timings, saying Musharraf time is 4 p.m. but actually it is 3 p.m,” wrote Shahid Sohail in a comment on All Things Pakistan. Prayer times were affected and there was chaos until the authorities withdrew the measure.

Another reader on the same blog wasn’t sure what difference it would make in a city like Karachi where businesses don’t start until 12 p.m, itself a problem.

Pakistanis must cooperate in the national interest, the government said, perhaps mindful of the past experience. The power shortage is indeed so serious that there have been riots in recent months.  There is a shortage of 4,500 mw at the moment, forcing recurrent power cuts across the country.

Still, the idea of Pakistan now half an hour ahead of India – when it actually should be behind given its location to the west – adds to the chronological confusion. 

The Los Angeles Times said it’s like saying California is ahead of Utah. But then scientific logic hasn’t traditionally set times in South Asia. Nepal wanted to be on its own time zone, rather than live in Big Brother India’s lengthening shadows, so it chose to move its clock by 15 minutes.

Sri Lanka, which was on the same clock as India, moved half an hour ahead, which was again seen as asserting its identity, But the Tamil Tigers fighting for an independent homeland refused to make the switch, emphasising, in turn, their distinctiveness.

So the tiny island which has been tearing itself apart in a 25-year civil war ended up with two different sets of times. They used to call it  Jaffna time in the north as different from the clock in the rest of the island. Ultimately the government moved back the clock and today they are on the same time zone as India.

And if your head isn’t spinning by now, try Bangladesh  which sits in a geographical location such that it has India on both its western and eastern borders. But that hasn’t stopped it from having its Bangladesh Standard Time half an hour ahead of the Indian clock. So you have a situation where if you travelled east from Bangladesh to India’s northeast you would have to turn your watch back by 30 minutes,  so you actually end up gaining time while travelling east.

Mental calisthenics ?   

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