Different cultures can perceive time in different ways. In the west we see time as sequential, a straight line, whereas India sees time as synchronic, they see the past, present and future as interrelated.
Why do we need to know this? Knowledge of the culture of others is not about making judgments of others – rather, it helps us adapt to differences.
In a nutshell, this western approach to time explains why we are always rushing about, completing one meeting and rushing on to the next, while your Indian host seems relaxed, not in a rush, dealing with many other things while meeting with you and so on.
The Indian view of time partly explains the seeming “chaos” of Indian conferences – people constantly leaving or entering the room, private meetings can distract your attention and of course mobiles will ring and will be answered. All of this can be confusing for westerners, yet for the Indians, this is just a normal situation.
In a business meeting, the Indian you are talking to might also be signing letters, taking messages from staff, handling calls and seemingly not paying attention – but in fact knows exactly what you are saying despite what westerners would see as interruptions.
It is important for the visitor to adapt to this difference – especially on business visits. For example, filling your day with meetings could mean you miss the real opportunity, such as towards the end of a long meeting, your Indian host might want to introduce you to a superior or a friend in another company – this is a sign of your acceptance, the meeting has gone well, and they are honoring you. Without understanding this difference, you rush off and miss the opportunity.