T’was just the other day sitting at my cousin’s house in Delhi with a host of friends and relatives we were startled by the strangest of sounds: Since my cousin had gone over to the neighbor’s, each of us pretended not to have heard the noise assuming it came from pressure cooker, her alarm clock or some other gadget she had gathered poor thing, which we civilized cousins had never heard off.
We were quite startled to see her running into the room “Can’t you guys pick up the phone?” she asked looking at each of us with disgust. “Phone!” we asked as from beneath a pile of clothes and pillows she fished out the maker of the offending sound.
“I didn’t know you had a landline!” I said sheepishly and the others in the room nodded. A nephew of mine, all of four years old strolled over to the offending instrument, looked at with curiosity bordering on disdain and asked, “What’s a landline ma?” There was an embarrassed pin drop silence as the poor mother tried to explain to her son what the contraption was. “And why does it have a tail?” asked the little fellow.
“Tail?” asked the mother as we all giggled, “That’s the wire which connects it son!” The little fellow examined the machine, felt the wire to its source, shook his head and said, “It’s silly!”
Ah little boy, there was a time not too long ago when it wasn’t silly: When the person who possessed phone in building was everybody’s friend. The best Diwali mithai and Christmas cakes were sent to that family; nobody quarreled with them and they on their part spent their time running from flat to flat telling people there was a call for them, and as they watched neighbours talk away in their living room, they wondered how everybody had their number.
“Was that an emergency?” “Yes,” said the neighbour, “My son’s friend’s mother wanted to find out tomorrow’s home work!”
And here’s a story for you little boy: I remember the time when I decided to go in for a phone. I applied and waited and waited for years and there was narry a word from the department. “Five thousand rupees!” said my insurance agent, “A connection in a month! Pay the money tomorrow at five, I’ll get it done!” We hardly slept that night, my wife and I. “I don’t believe in paying a bribe!” I said, “but we need a phone!” “Let’s pray about it!” she said. We did. “What have you decided?” she asked next morning. “I’m paying!” I said, looking at the floor.
The appointment was for five in the evening. I carried the cash with me as I left for work, but at around four when I peered into my briefcase I found I hadn’t brought the telephone papers. I drove old car furiously back home to pick up papers, walked into my home, opened cupboard when doorbell rang. “Telephone department!” said the two fellows at the door, “we’ve come to fix your landline!” “Landlines, little boy, reminds me prayer works!” I said as I felt a tear on my cheek.!