I come from the generation which has grown up without a phone in their homes. Consequently, I spent much of my teenage years hanging around in homes of friends, who had, you guessed it, a phone. The phone, as the parent of any teen knows, is crucial to developing a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. Or the same sex, as is often the case in these times. Anyway, the mother had coughed up a grand amount of Rs 1000 and I had stood for hours in line at the MTNL office at Vile Parle (which is where the main office for the zone I then lived in was) and finally submitted said draft, and got a signed stamped receipt that said that someday in the future I could expect aliens to land on the earth and asked to be taken to meet our leader. Nope that was the gas connection. This receipt didnt state anything. No date. No timeline. Just a confirmation that MTNL had received money from us towards a telephone line.
It just put me in a furious state of anticipation that someday, someday when I was still young enough to consider telephone romance a valid way to spend time, I would have a telephone installed in my home. And this would be before I hit menopause.
As things go, I met the love of my life in the last month of my college days, and it had already been six years since my application for the Rs 1ooo telephone. The impediments to true love! Neither he nor I had a telephone at home and his poor harassed upstairs neighbour was the one I would call in order to speak with him, and many a times encounter a very irate future MIL who would breathe fire into the phone. The slight darkened burnt patch, around my right ear, that’s it.
Then came the letter announcing that we had, fall to your knees and praise the lord, been allocated a line. And a linesman would arrive on some day to instal said line. This letter threw me into a frenzy so manic, I had to be manacled to the sofa to prevent me rushing out and roaming the streets in a bid to locate a linesman. Called Yadav. Ever realise that all MTNL telephone linesmen were called Yadav. I think they were manufactured in the cloning department in the vast recesses of MTNL offices where dusty cupboards containing files which mutated and turned into organic life forms over the years were kept, as part of a secret mission to test how long people could wait for a phone without going and threatening to set fire to the furniture and the damn files.
I held my peace. For a day. The next day, I couldnt wait any longer. I snuck down while the mater was out at work and stood in the shadows by the phone box waiting for the Yadav to show up. I pounced on him when he ambled in. Hamara order aaya hai, I asked rattling off the booking number and showing him the letter which had arrived from the MTNL office. He spat out his paan, and informed me that he had not yet received the order to put in the line. To check after a few days. Which I did. Every second day, until of course, the poor linesman took pity on me and told me he had received the order and would get our phone home someday. I was lucky he didnt take a restraining order out on me.
Needless to say I spent a frantic few days not stepping outside the door even for college in case the man came and left, finding no one home. I even timed bathroom visits to milliseconds to ensure that no doorbell was ever left unattended. I did not drink much water those days.
After promised few days, the man came home, with rolls of ugly black wire and a green telephone instrument. I got the arti thali out, lit the diya and did the obligatory round and round of said instrument once it was installed. Nope. I’m kidding. I was all cool, calm and collected as though telephone lines got installed in my home everyday and spent the remainder of the day calling up every friend and vague aquaintance to give them my new number.
The phone was installed in what was called a conveniently located spot, but one which didnt have seating so I spent most of the day standing and having long conversations. Never mind that I spent most of the conversation hopping from foot to foot, rather than waste a minute dragging a stool to the phone to rest the butt on, while discussing important theoretical matters with college friends regarding who ‘liked’ whom, and who wanted to be ‘friends’ with whom, and who was going ‘out’ with whom.
Today I would rather email, tweet or sms rather than pick up the phone and chat with anyone. Including the spouse. Alas, I now live in a home with three cellphones and two telephone lines and can make all the conversation I would want to.
We moved to our new home. Before the embers of our grihpravesh havan die down the doorbell rings. The Airtel man is at the door, with printed rate plans and schemes. We sign the paperwork. The phone is installed the very next day.
Theyve taken the anticipation out of the phone, and with it the romance. I pity the current generation. They know not the thrill of making a phone call, when sufficient privacy can be organised within the cramped location of one bhk flats where unless you crouch into a corner under a table with a blanket thrown over you, every word will be clearly audible to the mater who should be, rightfully snoring at the end of a tiring day. These poor children today have sms, and chat and twitter and everything possible available on their mobile handsets. No sense of anticipation and waiting. The tragedy.