I chose the delicate, tinkling sound of the flowing brook as the ringtone of my new ‘unsmart’ phone. Inspired by the grand claims of indestructibility made by the brook in Tennyson’s poem of the same name where it sings (yes, in poems, brooks can sing, and how!) ‘For men may come and men may go/But I go on forever,’ I had fond hopes my phone would also go on forever.
For a month both the phone and I babbled, chattered and murmured to our hearts’ content and then this happened. I had set the alarm for 6 am and was woken up by the sound of a grating croak. The croak choked over itself like a dignified death rattle, then stopped. I had a function to attend and there was no time to mull over the strange, camouflaged alarm.
That afternoon, we were returning home when a raucous wail escaped from my bag without a warning, followed by a couple of harsh squawks, as if a bad-tempered banshee was engaged in a slanging match with an incensed rooster. I performed a sitting jump and in a quick reflex action, flung my ‘possessed’ bag into the back seat while my husband braked involuntarily. The noise ended as abruptly as it had started.
We looked at each other, alarmed. “It must be your phone,” announced my husband, breaking the eerie silence. “Not my phone!” I protested. “It babbles like a brook.”
“Now it snarls like a villain,” he countered. “Anyway, let’s check.” He gave me a call and sure enough, my bag belted out its bizarre, wailing solo number.
“But my phone’s new. Why should it behave like this?” I wailed, giving that phantom in the phone a run for its money. “We’ll get home and find out,” said my husband, starting the car.
Once home, I called my number from the landline and the phone got into its banshee act again, confirming my fears that my brook had played the dirty on me. Yet, hoping this was just a temporary aberration, my husband and I took turns at calling my number several times, with the same result.
Worse was to follow. After a few more life-like vocal impersonations of a dying frog, the phone gave a hesitant hiccup and went silent. No amount of cajoling in the form of changing the ringtones or its volume helped. It remained deathly quiet.
“Time to take it to the dealer,” said my husband after asking leading questions like, “Are you sure your message box isn’t full?”, “Do you have too many photos stored?” and concluding his cross-examination with an emphatic, “The memory must be full.”
“There are no photos in my new phone, and I keep deleting my messages,” I protested. “If anything, I underuse the features of the phone.”
“Did you place it near water?” he began again. “On water? By water? Beside water?”
Before he could bring more prepositions into his interrogation, I retorted, “No, not even under water,” and couldn’t resist adding that he is the one who loves to tempt fate by constantly placing his phone right next to the water jug on the dining table.
Back to life
After another trial, I got exasperated and tossed it on the bed. But I used a little too much force and it skimmed and bounced to the other end like a stone in a game of ducks and drakes and dropped over with a thud. Oh no! Dispirited, I recovered it and called my number from the landline and, believe it or not, the brook began babbling again!
I had forgotten about this familiar, tried and tested method of banging, hitting or kicking something to get it working. My sister once told me about how the attender in her office used to give solid whacks to the errant photocopying machine to make it function again. Radios, tape recorders, clocks, toasters, electric kettles, fans...you name them, they have all received this wham-bam treatment, with amazing results.
But the alarm refused to work. We decided to take the phone to the dealer and I was getting ready when I heard the original sound of the alarm. Delighted, I raced to the living room. My husband turned off the alarm and handed me the phone with a grin.
“I completed what you started,” he explained. “It fell and that got the alarm going.”
“Yaay!” I exclaimed, giving the phone an approving thump on its back. It flew from my hand and landed with another thud. Now it’s with the dealer, getting overhauled.
A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series. She can be contacted at email@example.com