The watch never left his side. It was the first thing Gandhi reached for when he rose each morning at 4 a.m., and the last thing he checked before going to bed, often past midnight. He consulted it frequently through the day so as never to be late for an appointment. And, at that final moment, when three bullets from an assassin’s Beretta knocked him over, his 78-year-old body slumped to the ground, and the watch also stopped.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Ingersoll pocket watch, costing just a dollar, was among the handful of material possessions he owned. Since he didn’t have a pocket to carry it in, he attached the watch to his dhoti with a safety pin and a loop of khadi string. The Ingersoll is displayed in a glass case at the National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi alongside his bloodstained dhoti and shawl. Together, the three items form a striking metaphor of Kala, the Hindu god of time who is also the god of death.
Gandhi’s legendary punctuality had a utilitarian imperative—without it he would never have been able to answer the sacks of letters and streams of visitors that demanded his attention each day. But, as with everything he valued, it had a moral imperative as well. Simply put, time was tied to his philosophy of trusteeship: the belief that just as we do not own our wealth but are trustees of it—and thus have to use it wisely—similarly, we are trustees of our time. “You may not waste a grain of rice or a scrap of paper, and similarly a minute of your time,” he wrote. “It is not ours. It belongs to the nation and we are trustees for the use of it.” Consequently, any abuse of time was unethical. “One who does less than he can is a thief,” he wrote to a friend. “If we keep a timetable we can save ourselves from the last-mentioned sin indulged in even unconsciously.” While this focus on punctuality may portray Gandhi as skittish and anxious, the opposite was true: a timetable allowed him to give the issue at hand his tranquil and undivided attention. [Continue reading…]