Those were the days ...
Bombay — the early 1970s. Tring ... Tring … Trinnng rang our phone. We three sisters would dash towards our living room vying with each other to answer the call. At first, we would pick up the phone and bark: “Hullo, who is speaking??”. My father, not at all happy with our lack of etiquette, instructed us in not-so-patient terms, “Always start with a polite and soft ‘hello’ and follow it up with, ‘who is speaking please?’... and it would never hurt you to finish it with a ‘thank you,’ will it? And there is no need to scream into the phone at the top of your voice … do you want the caller to hear you directly?”
The telephone was always an important fixture at home, with a spot designated and furniture designed especially for it. It was kept either on a prestigious stand or on the corner table, right beside its 6-inch thick directory.
It wasn’t just in our home; the phone was considered an essential 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 matrimonial columns: “Wanted - a tall, slim, beautiful, educated, caring girl for a well-placed, postgraduate boy from a respectable family owning a phone.” No other information about the boy was required!
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 picked up the phone, he would keep waving his hand at us to keep quiet so he can hear the caller clearly. Quietening three girls and their mother was not easy, so sometimes he would throw a pen or pencil at us.
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 he would start announcing, “Phone! Phone!”. It took a while for him to understand that we could always call back, or indeed avoid the call if we wanted to!
Another person made important by these phones was the line man. A couple of days before Diwali, our phone would invariably stop working and this saviour would 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 baksheesh. We would dare not turn him away without a packet of homemade sweets and a 100-rupee bill...
Being one of the few houses possessing 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, “You see my phone has not been working from yesterday...”
But the downside was that everyone in the building would give our number as their own contact number, and so whenever the phone rang 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 tell the caller, “Rao uncle says he is not home now” :)
These calls would see us girls running up and down the building … these days when everyone has a phone, these things seem trivial and ancient. But those were memorable days when we took pride in our huge black phone with rotary dialling. The sound when we dialled different numbers is still lingering in my ears.
The phone lost its charm when it became mobile …
(The writer’s email: email@example.com)