It has been an interesting 60 years. Thinking about telephones and telephony, that is.
For the first 7 years of my school, up to 1961, we did not have a telephone at home in Pune. It was not that it was expensive, but it was simply not available to everyone. There were waiting lists.
I came home one afternoon while in eight grade, to see a black rotary instrument sitting in the living room. Turned out, that many families we knew, also got these telephones on the same day. And almost immediately, the misuse began. History homework notes were exchanged in detail and dictated over the phone, arithmetic homework was checked assiduously, till a maternal and paternal outrage immediately put a stop to it. One doesn't remember having too much casual talk with friends over it, and it was used sparingly, like to contact the doctor, or the school etc. Overseas calls, then involved booking a call, and for some reason, understanding the accent of the overseas operator gave us a big high, and we would shout at the top of our voices when the connection happened, as if the voice needed to carry over the 12,000 miles ...
We soon went through a period up to , say mid eighties, when getting a phone installed was such a huge achievement. Particularly in Mumbai where I was living then. Keeping it working was even more of one. It was controlled by a public sector set up, and was basically a sellers market, where a lot more (in terms of surreptitious telephone services) was sold, besides telephone connections. Telephone repair mechanics ruled supreme, and one always admired folks working with the telephone department.
For many years I had a file of telephone complaints correspondence, probably classifying me persona non grata , with the fellows, who provided quick undocumented telephone repairs with a smile, while pocketing a disproportionately huge compulsory tip. Telephone wires still stretched through poles and trees, and there were several occasions, when I had to climb on the sloping roof of our apartment complex, to co-operate and verbally communicate with a guy on top of a pole, as he attempted to set things right.
We were the only folks in the building having a telephone, and it was often used as a community thing during some emergency time. One of our neighbors, had just had a prostate operation , and the histopathological exam of the excised sample, was indicating some not-so-nice , yet doubtful conclusions. The agitated lady came down to our house that evening, with the urologists number, and explained. They needed to call and fix up an urgent appointment.
We called. The first call reached a wrong number. This happened again and again, despite slow, proper, dialling of the stuff. The same lady would come on at the other end. And she finally asked us what our problem was, once she surmised that we weren't children surreptitiously having fun by making prank calls. Possibly there was a connection snafu somewhere in the cables, which was directing these calls to her number (with a difference of one digit).
Turned out that she happened to know the urologist, who stayed nearby. She understood our plight, and offered to send her son over to find out an appointment for us the next day, and asked us to call back in half a hour. We did. The urologist remembered this patient and the urgency and gave an appointment the next day. The unknown lady was profusely thanked by us. And to this day we don't know her name or where she stayed.....
Those were the old days. And we then had such "quality" wrong numbers and cross connections!
Today, with the advent of cell phones, and the communication sector opened up to private participation, the telephone has become a toy. Wires on landlines have gone underground, it is no longer attractive to be a telephone mechanic, and I don't climb on sloped terraces anymore, to shout at the mechanic on the telephone pole. Though, one, of course, does see random ditches being dug in the midst of heavy traffic, by the telephone people, to correct, what they call, cable faults.
But in today's wireless world, there are batteries of semi-trained young people sitting with lists and calling unknown people from there, to sell things.
Blue Chip investments, Prudential insurances, credit cards and debit cards from assorted fancy banks, and personal loans.
One person even called up to say that I would get a free fully paid trip for two, at some five star resort if I answered 4 questions, pertaining to the (India's) freedom struggle. I did. Successfully, and then was told to come to a vague place in Mumbai for a free dinner (for two), and a presentation, provided I brought my cheque book along. A friend got taken in by this and found out it was a timeshare scheme, where they closed the office and vanished into thin air after a few months.
There is another set up folks who call offering personal loans from various banks. The same banks, hold tight on rules, when you apply for a house loan or something and entangle you in paperwork. After once getting 8 calls in 2 days, something went like this :
"Good afternoon. I am calling from XXXXXXX bank. And we can offer you a personal loan " a male voice.
"But I don't need any loan right now. Besides who gave you my number? " Me.
"Ma'am. Just a few minutes. We have these very attractive schemes, personal loans up to 50,000. Cash."
" Look. Tell me if you need money. I will give you a personal loan." Me. With false bravado.
That bank probably struck me off their list.
The bank where I have been a customer for 35 years, recently made 9 phone calls to me. Different people asking the same question. Do I want a credit card ?(I already had one of theirs). To each one, I had to provide the same information from scratch. I finally sent them 10 identical emails saying the same thing. After which someone called to apologize.
But the worst thing to happen is this business of cellphone caller tunes and ring tones. Ages ago we only had the decent tring-tring.
Today, you are standing in a bus, crushed in the crowd, and something has just fallen down from your purse as you organize to buy a ticket. Someones phone rings and merrily plays the old favourite ,"Congratulations , and celebrations !"......
Then there is the guy who has just spat tobacco juice out from the window, and his phone rings and loudly plays "Sare jahan se Achha, Hindostan Hamara !".
Or there is this HUGE person, whose ring tone says something about "Pappu being unable to dance" (said with an expletive), which is supposed to be a popular song...... (I wouldn't even try dancing in the bus...)
There are folks who think nothing of playing emergency sirens, whistles, and shouts as ring tones.
But the concept of caller tunes is new. When you call someone, instead of the usual tone, you are compulsorily made to hear some stuff. Some have old film songs. Some have some patriotic music. Some have the latest hit in Hollywood and Bollywood. Some have religious prayers. I have even heard someone, who makes you listen to the typical concluding recitations done by priests during Hindu marriages, before he picks up the phone. I have heard baby laughs, cricket commentaries, and parodies of film villains.
My brain is clogged. I give up. I want the old days back again. When you had no choices and a simple standard ring. No sms's, no missed calls being used as tricks to indicate something, and no frequently changing phone schemes, while the phone company kind of bleeds you dry, slowly and steadily.
I think only the Almighty can help.
And so I have a caller tune which is an old Marathi movie song, a devotional song, and a favourite. And it beseeches the Lord saying, my body is the safe-locker, my faith is the fixed deposit, and please to open the doors of heaven, please to open the doors......(And all the while, at least in the movie, some thieves are busy trying to hack open some safe deposit vault...)
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