This is not a rant against cell phones. It is a recounting of the simple pleasures that they cannot give.
Back in the 50’s, my grandmother worked at the switchboard in Bombay Telephones. A famous someone wished to place a call from Kolhapur to Bombay. The operators refused to make the connection, until the caller acceded to their request.
The caller was a young Lata Mangeshkar, and they made her sing for them.
My grandparents still own an ancient instrument, complete with dial. It takes a minute to place a call, index finger rotating the glass disc to the right digit, waiting, then dialling the next one. A series of clicks brings you closer to the right connection.
By the time you hear a voice, you’re bursting with anticipation.
It comes from a time when phone numbers were permanent, and you had fifty of them (literally) at your fingertips. No one lost touch, or panicked when a contact list was lost.
Those were also the days of telephone etiquette. One did not make calls between lunchtime and four, and after ten at night. Slumbers were never disturbed. A call past midnight was terrifying; someone was dying, or dead.
In those pre-caller ID days, every call would be answered with a gently inquisitive “Hello?” When you made calls, you’d begin with a polite ‘Hello, this is one-and-one, so-and-so’s so-and-so; may I speak with so-and-so please?” And you’d be asked to hold.
This, of course, was before we began initiating conversations with “Waatsaaaaaaap?!!!”
When meetings were arranged telephonically, everyone would show up on time. If not, you’d find the nearest PCO and call the expected person’s landline, counting seconds on the LED screen, till it was time for the next rupee. And oh the happiness of unexpectedly finding that person in a crowd!
With one instrument and several members in each house, you’d often exchange pleasantries with everyone in your friend’s family before speaking with your friend. If yours was a family of three and your cousin’s of four, exchanging festive wishes necessitated twelve individual conversations. And if that call was STD, you’d have to yell loud enough to wish your neighbours, just to make yourself heard.
Privacy, of course, was unheard of. Sensitive calls were made, and prayed for, only when no else was at home. If you stared at the landline hard enough, it would ring. You’d snatch the receiver off the hook, manage to entangle yourself in the cord, and send the instrument crashing to the floor. Then you’d find yourself a comfortable corner, cradle the receiver between ear and shoulder, and talk. For hours. Or until the bell rang.
Then (Praise the Lord!) came cordless phones. You’d sneak it under the blankets at night, and have to explain to your parents next morning just why it was completely discharged. And if you suddenly heard some hushed disturbance, you knew someone had picked up the extension, and it was time to talk about the weather.
I miss those days.
* * *