Senthil Jayaraman hears the incoming alert on his phone, pads over to fetch his reading spectacles and carefully checks the WhatsApp message he has received. His face lights up and cracks into a smile; his daughter who lives in the United States has just sent him a picture of her fourteen-year-old son at a stage recital in his school.
“Swapna got me this on her last trip to India,” he says, waving his iPhone.
When his daughter got married and moved to the U.S. about fifteen years ago, Mr. Jayaraman and his wife were regular visitors to the PCO booth within walking distance from their apartment in Adyar, and spoke to her on alternate Sundays. Come 2006, and their desktop computer was installed with the free voice-calling software Skype. Their alternate Sunday ritual had, even before that, become a practice reserved for emergencies, as Mr. Jayaraman had a cell phone by then. Today, a landline still sits on a table at the PCO booth he frequented but is mostly ignored by the shop’s patrons.
J. Sundar who runs the little shop that now sells stationery, TTK maps for school students and candy says he hardly has people visiting his shop to make phone calls abroad, anymore. Or even local calls, for that matter, he adds. “Two days ago, a domestic help made a call to her employer saying she cannot come in to work as her child was sick. This was also only because her cell phone did not have balance,” Mr. Sundar says. He has not had any customers making calls since.
With technology ringing in newer, cheaper and faster ways of communicating and keeping in touch, PCO booths that most people from the 90s remember have fallen in danger of disappearing all together. Indeed, many erstwhile PCO booths that had made good money have had to either shut down or adapt to changing times.
R. Karthiga, who has worked along with her husband for 33 years in a PCO booth lining the Central station’s platform, says business has been dull even there. “People rarely make calls from our booths. Everyone has a cell phone. Only a few people who have travelled long distance sometimes stop by to make a quick call,” she says.
The once ubiquitous PCO booth has hardly any takers these days