Tuesday, February 1, 2011


He is one of a kind – my hubby, who else? So he’s gone without ‘it’. Of course he doesn’t own one as he has a love-hate relationship with ‘it’. I wanted him to take mine, you see – so that he could call me on our landline – on reaching the airport, on boarding the flight, on landing in Bangalore after an hour’s flight, on getting into a prepaid taxi, on checking into the hotel…. – some half a dozen calls in some 260 minutes. At least he’ll be on my radar…..
This is precisely what’s happening in today’s world – every family has its own network of connection which enables every member to be easily tracked. Such is today’s ‘call culture’ - connectivity is rapid, almost instantaneous, easy and cheap. People have become extremely accessible – anywhere, anytime – I really wonder whether our privacy should become so public!
The very first thing a person does on reaching the workplace is make a call home about the safe reach. Agreed commute has become so tough and hazardous in India that it warrants this. Or is it a matter of ‘have the convenience, use it - after all it costs a negligible amount’? May be but then weren’t we fine even before the telecom revolution? I cannot but take a walk down memory lane to etch the path of rapid progress in the telecom field in our country through the decades….
Four decades ago, when I got married and set up home several states away from my parental home, I had some one hundred and eleven little news to convey every alternate day to my family. Letters were my sole mode of communication as I had no phone connection. Also no STD booths existed those days. Emotionally-charged-four-pages-stuffed 25 paise envelopes would be exchanged on a regular basis between my family and me. Sometimes it would be the 15-paise-3-page-blue inlands with even the inner folds crammed with words. We did not mind the criss-crossing of our letters or the expected-unexpected postal delays. My father had once or twice called up hubby on his department phone to convey some important message.
Come early 80s and we had a couple of neighbours with phone connection and so my parents could make an occasional call and leave a message or better still, call for me. But we never made a request to use their phone except in an odd emergency. The late 80s witnessed the sprouting of STD booths in every street and so we got to make STD calls to our near and dear ones when we felt like. But conversations during outstation calls were kept brief as eyes would be riveted on the charge-meter. Those staying farthest got less talk time from us while the more closely-located ones got a better deal – you see the out-station calls those days were charged according to the distances. Of course local calls were made but only when necessitated.
What about the kids, you’d ask! Well what about them - they knew what to expect – they got to be with their friends at school from 8 to 3.30 and they didn’t expect more! Of course they had some friends staying at biking distance from home where they could drop in for fun or need. As for friends staying in different pockets of the city, letters were exchanged - during vacations, that is! This way the thrill registered in the excitement-meter was high when friends occasionally got together.
In the early 90s our phone connection arrived – quicker than the expected 5 year wait! And in good time too! What with my sons moving into a hostel in another city, we were finding it inconvenient to reach them using the STD booth and they couldn’t call us back! So the landline came as a boon as we got to talk to them at least every weekend. Outstation calls became a little more frequent - just a little - as STD rates were still high and conversations never meandered to ‘What’s for lunch?” / “How’s the weather there?” – or such rambling pointless stuff that hardly mattered but remained crisp, brief and to the point!
Towards the beginning of the new millennium our sons had moved to the US and they would call us every weekend. We didn’t have ISD facility on our landline – the rules were stringent and involved a lot of paper work and a sizeable deposit. ISD call rates from India were high in comparison with the US and so it was better they called us. Four years later we had free ISD connection too and we also started making overseas calls. Needless to say our calls within the country had grown in frequency and duration – weekly calls had transformed into daily calls with a hearty exchange of the trivial tidbits of our daily lives.
Along with this dawned the cell phone culture which saw the janta going gaga over it – at least I felt they were going overboard! Call it middle class mentality - I’d rather call on the landline for greater clarity and duration (read economy) as compared to the cell phone. I still can’t see any logic when a friend calls me on the cell phone when both of us have landline connections and both of us are not in the mobile mode – the former call is charged by the minute while the latter is charged by every three minutes! In case some of my otherwise calculative friends didn’t know this equation, all I have to say in explanation is - if you speak to a friend for 10 minutes, the difference in the calls is a good 6 rupees. (Or am I missing something?) And pray, how many such calls are made? If the person is not available and the message is urgent, then it’s a different story.
I have a cell phone alright, but I use it judiciously – I have my usual schedule of ‘missed calls’ – to our landline – on reaching my work place and on starting back. This ‘missed call’ culture runs in the family – originally started by my brother in the early 70s when he’d give two rings to his classmate to signal that he was starting from home and would be picking him up in ten minutes. My son continued this with his friend staying above our flat – the signal ‘ring’ would bring both the boys to their balconies for a face-to-face chat. The boys hadn’t missed out on a similar communication even in the pre-phone days! They were enterprising enough to devise a crude device to work like Graham Bell’s invention – metallic pieces attached to both ends of a rope running between the two balconies and touching the floors. A couple of tugs at the rope would produce a metallic sound and bring out the boy at the other end to the balcony to answer the ‘call’! Soon we elders too caught the bug and used the ‘two-ring’ code technique on our telephones.
I still have a preference for my telephone any day. After all that lecture on thrift, what will you say when I admit that I spend 30-40 minutes on ISD calls indulging in baby-talk with my grand kids? All I can say in self defence is - that is a priceless experience! I do call up and have a long chat with my friends too – I say this lest you should consider me an introvert! But then I have to admit that I use my more economical landline. I won’t attribute this attitude to miserliness but to judiciousness!
Another point is I’d rather speak to persons face-to-face – so when I go for my walk I don’t carry my cell phone as I know I’ll bump into plenty of friends to make conversation in flesh and blood and don’t want to miss out on the opportunity. Many who come for evening stroll, take it as an opportunity to have long conversations on their cell phone with God-knows-who. By the way I don’t believe in talking about personal matters in public hearing!
My point is cell phones are for emergencies – not for hour-long chit-chats while you are walking or driving. Nevertheless mobile phones have come to stay as a fashion statement - and let’s be honest – they are a boon especially for those on the move!
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.


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