The old chronicler of time
I read a delightful book, “Clock Towers of India,” written by Dr. Yatindra Pal (YP) Singh. We share our Alma Mater – GB Pant University. I graduated in Mechanical Engineering and YP in Civil Engineering. Two years junior to me there, YP was studious, energetic and immaculate, unlike the playful, chaotic and scruffy me. YP won the Chancellor’s medal for his all-round excellence and later joined the Indian Railway Service of Engineers. So, when I read his book with some beautiful photographs, including the clock tower of our own university, a cascade of memories was activated.
It started with the rhyme, YP quoted in the book – Ghantaghar ki char ghadi, Charon mein zanzir padi – there are four clocks in the clock tower, all four are chained. It was the theme song of the freedom movement in North India, from where YP and I come. As most of the clock towers were constructed by the British or the local feudal lords supporting them, they became the butt of scorn. But after independence, the clock towers quickly turned into icons. We sang the Ghantaghar ki char ghadi… as our pathshala rhyme. Meerut, where I was born and schooled, had a majestic clock tower built by the prodigals of Hasan Mahmudi Kamboh, who captured the city of Meerut for Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030). It was called Kamboh Gate, one of the nine gates of old Meerut.
When I was admitted to Dev Nagari Inter College in 1965, I would walk under the tall three-laned structure. We could hear the clock tower’s bells in the night, when sleeping on the terrace, which was the norm during summer. Then the name Kamboh Gate was changed to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dwar, celebrating the fact that the great hero had visited Meerut in 1930 and addressed the public from here. The doughty manager of Menka Cinema, with his soldier-style moustache, had fought for the Azad Hind Fauz, we were told. He would stand in the lobby of the cinema with a cane, and I would give him a passing glance of deep admiration, carrying my heavy school bag on my back like a mountaineer.
My father worked in Meerut Municipality, a furlong away from Ghantaghar. Once my father said that there would be a procession from the Municipality passing through the Ghantaghar and we decided to watch the spectacle. Three of my younger siblings, two brothers and a sister, along with our grandmother, climbed to the first level where there was a big watch shop. We spent about an hour there, but no procession came. It was my first chance to look down from a height and I was indeed captivated watching the traffic below. Later, when I looked down from the Eiffel Tower in 1985 and 2014, the Sears Tower in 1999, St. Louis Arch in 2000, Jin Mao Tower in 2003, and Burj Khalifa in 2015, every time, the Ghantaghar came alive reminding me of the indomitable spirit of my grandmother.
The clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, famous as the “Big Ben,” was completed in 1859. It is perhaps the biggest and the best clock tower in the world. Big Ben’s clock was the largest and the most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world. In 2016, I spent good time there, looking at the details of its marvellous structure. It is 40 feet, about 12 meters, on each side and 320 feet height, just short of 100 meters. Hearing the 15-ton bell struck by a 450 pounds (about 200 kg.) hammer was surreal!
YP writes in his book that the British commissioned clock towers at many places in India to show their authority to the commoners and to keep the morale of their troops high. But while a clock tower signifies power, the clock signifies a structured lifestyle. YP purchased his first wristwatch in 1981, after getting a job. I was lucky to have it from my father in 1971, when he was sending me off to Pantnagar. My father died at the young age of 49 in 1979 and I did not wear a wristwatch since then. A few years back, my friend, Jitu Patel, who lives in Nairobi, gifted me a 10,000-dollar Rolex watch, as he was meeting me on my birthday. But I am yet to wear it.
Nowadays, everyone lives with a mobile and the time is so obvious. But, instead of making people more productive and organized in their lives, this awareness has cultivated a new pattern of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OBC) of checking time every moment. People fix alarms for TV shows, schedule gossip sessions and create cognitive garbage by megabytes every day. They can idle for hours together doing nothing and yet keep their senses and mind busy. I must share here what Charles Darwin, who gave the Theory of Evolution, famously said, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”
So, clock towers definitely played their own important role in creating awareness about time and helping people live life in a structured and purposeful way. As YP pointed out in the book, most of the clock towers in India are now dysfunctional, their clocks obsolete and unrepairable, and buildings depleted and encroached upon. A nation that does not respect its heritage, is often deprived of any glory in the future. Time moves like an arrow. It never returns. You can use it to hit a target, or shoot it into the dark. Eternity is indifferent to what are you doing with your life, like an envelope carrying a letter, not concerned with its content.
It is time to value your time on this planet and use it properly. No one has lived forever and you would not be an exception. As time passes by you, you will find your body losing its strength, your mind getting dull and your spirit losing its buoyancy and ardor. No regret, no remorse, and no lamentation would be of any help later. Be aware of time, for it is your time. Rather than minding the hours and minutes, be aware your breath and your heartbeats. The inner clock must not run itself out before the outer one.
Of all the content on TV in last few years, a series, “Mr. Robot” on Amazon Prime Video, fascinated me the most. There is a character, “White Rose,” who is the leader of the Dark Army, a Chinese hacker group. She is a transgender woman masquerading as the male Zhi Zhang, the Chinese Minister of State Security. In one scene, she is shown surrounded by hundreds of expansive clocks of all kinds – from antique to the most modern – in her house. She says, “I mind the top one percent of the top one percent by hacking their time.”
Mind your thoughts and emotions, and see how they are hacking you. Stay grounded in your body, stay connected to your past, your roots and your heritage and utilise their wisdom for creating a better future for yourself and the coming generations to live in. Every life is just an extension of what existed earlier and a genetic chronicle. I thoroughly enjoyed reading YP’s book and would certainly recommend it to everyone.
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