Bombay - the early ‘70’s.
Tring ….Tring…………….Trinnng rang our phone. We three sisters would dash towards our living room vying with each other to be the one to answer the call. We always felt important answering the phone, even though we knew it was always for our father. The first time we answered the phone we picked it up and barked, "Hullo who is speaking??”. My
father, not at all happy with his daughters’ lack of etiquette instructed us in not so patient terms, “Always start with a polite and soft 'hello' and then follow it up with 'who is speaking please?'…..and it would never hurt you to finish it with a 'thank you' now will it? And there is no need to scream into the phone at the top of your voice now, is there? Do you want the caller to hear you directly??".
After these lessons in etiquette and numerous corrections we finally learnt our way with the phone.
The telephone was always an important fixture at home, with a spot designated and furniture designed specially for it. It was either kept on a prestigious stand or in the corner table right beside its 6 inches thick directory. Learning to read the directory was another lesson we had to go through.
It wasn't just in our home; the phone was considered an important part of many families. A person's status was decided based on whether he or she owned a phone. It was common to come across this in the classified matrimonial columns- “Wanted - a tall, slim, beautiful, highly educated, home loving, caring, pious, obedient girl for a well placed, post-graduate
boy from a respectable family owning a phone and a car”.
No other information about the boy was required!
This generation would never be able to appreciate what it took to talk to person in a different city, state or country. We had to book a trunk call with the operator and linger around near the phone for the call to come in. As soon as we picked it up, the operator, in her well trained automated voice, will ask us to take our call. We had to rattle out our conversation quickly. We had all become experts in clearly planning out what we wanted to say in those three minutes. And of course we girls never got to talk in important trunk calls, lest we waste time in our "hullo who is speaking” ramble.
If it was a trunk call it was always our father who would drop everything, even his favourite newspaper and run towards the phone. And once he had picked up the phone , he would constantly keep waving his hand at us to keep quiet so can hear clearly. Quietening three girls and their mother was not easy, so he sometimes had to resort to throwing a pen or pencil at us to catch our attention. My father’s voice would also slowly increase in decibels to make himself be heard clearly - the trunk lines were always inaudible. We wouldn’t dare to throw the same line back at him now - “do you want to be heard directly?”... I’m sure the nosy aunty in the ground floor flat could hear him clearly all the way from our third floor flat :).
My father was so used to running to the phone and picking it up that even in recent years, whenever our mobile phone started ringing and we were not around, he would start announcing “ Phone! , Phone!”. It took a while for him to understand that there was no urgency nowadays to pounce on the phone. We could always call back if we wanted to, or we could avoid the call too if we didn’t want to take it!.
Another person made important by these phones was the line man. He was always in demand and would come in like a hero and saviour to repair our precious instrument whenever it was out-of-order. A couple of days before Diwali, our phone would invariably stop working and this Hero would to make many a visit to our place for repairs. The reason for this well-timed phone outage would become evident to us on Diwali day when he came home for his Diwali Baksheesh. We would dare not turn him away without a packet of homemade sweets and a Rs.100 bill...
Being one of the few houses to possess a phone in our building made us feel privileged, and we never missed out on an opportunity to throw in a casual line here and there “Oh! Want my phone number.?”, or “ Call me? Oh sorry you don’t have a phone, do you?”, or even a sad “ You see my phone has not been working from yesterday...” :)
But the downside of this was that every one in the building would give our phone number as their own contact number to all and sundry. And so whenever the phone would ring it was invariably “Please call Mini ‘s mother from flat no. 3?” or "Please pass on this message to Mrs Menon in flat...". Sometimes Rao uncle would turn us out with a "Tell him I am not at home!!”, and we would promptly return back home and tell the caller, "Rao uncle says he is not home now” :)
These calls would see us girls running up and down the building to call Mini’s mother or Menon Aunty... these days when everyone has a phone of their own these things seem trivial, and ancient.
But those were memorable days when we took pleasure in our huge black phone with rotary dialing. The sound when we turned different numbers is still lingering in my ears. The phone was kept on a beautiful stand in a prominently visible area and was covered with a decorative napkin. The maid had an added chore to dust and wipe it to shiny black everyday.
Now? We gift an expensive iPhone to our children and all we get out of them is "Oh! iPhone 4? But I wanted an iPhone 5!"...
Those were days when we took a lot of pleasure in small and simple things.
Phone lost its charm when it became mobile..