It’s a marvel that in every generation we hear, “this child behaves like s/he was born with a phone in their hand.” All my life i heard it. We had the traditional black manual dial telephone set for decades. In the last 15-18 years we changed. The black was replaced by a coloured, again manual dial, with plastic dial, not metal. Then the push button became a craze & since then life has been different.
In our neighbourhood our family, Kolhatkars were privileged. I didn’t know having a telephone was something extraordinary. I realised later how having it can be a huge bother though. We always associated calls at late evening or night with ‘bad’ news. And on most counts it would be bad news- death, accident, someone dying or ill. That telephone somehow was my life line. I was stuck to it. A school friend & I would time our conversations, we’d like have records of wanting to beat the previous. This was not appreciated by family let me tell you that. They thought i was addicted to telephone & all would pounce on me & they’d bully me and they conspired to have a lock. Phew! what conniving minds.
The neighbours in our building didn’t have telephones for most part of my childhood. And our tailor depended on our phone. which was a BIG pain, till he got one. He got one sooner than the residential neighbours. He was more enterprising. At that time i remember the call rate was Rs 3. So our neighbours would call & talk. Earlier they’d pay only re1 or forget to pay. Or they’d like pay for first 3 minutes then not pay for the rest of the conversation. I mean they made one call but would speak for well over 5 mins & give rs 3. What calculation was that? We’d tell them we did NOT want the call money. But our Gujju neighbours were like, “no we don’t want free calls…” hell, the speaking time was well over free-it was plain fleecing. so what were they talking of no-free calls. Anyways then the rate per call went up & the menace of neighbours too. It wasn’t just them making calls, it was them giving our number as care-of num & then we being compelled to go out, ring their bells, wait for unlimited time, meanwhile shouts from our house yelling at me time-waster as i was called…goading me to tell them it was their call. “Our call, at this time?” and i’d be like will you pl rush. It is YOUR call.
Most hilarious was all these were once joint families and it was our responsibility to remember which family member had come to make the call. Or jot down messages for them & covey it to right person. Exhausting. Then i suggested to my father let’s keep a notebook & take their signatures. F that money we didn’t want that chillar…but it was to prove the truth & teach them a lesson. who made a call, who got a call whose message. I like to do such things…want everything in black & white..Well my plan wasn’t allowed to be a success…because we aren’t police or advocates i am often told.
Then i really don’t have any memory when these neighbours bought their telephones. I think it was at a time when the deposit came down to Rs 500 & rentals further fell. I didn’t know it was expensive to have a telephone . We also had STD facility all our lives. Our neighbours would come to make outstation calls to our house…the rates were high then. We had a telephone so i simply assumed all should have one.
Till my working days telephone was permanent fixture in our lives. More so were the timings. SOS late night calls, unless an emergency continues even today. The Cinderella Time in our house is 10.00pm. All friends had been warned NOT to call post 10.00pm, because parents sleep by then.
That day wasn’t far. 1st we were inching towards developed technology. So first came the computer. Which ofcourse took more years to reach India. Then we have seen tremendous progress. I am of that generation that has seen a pager. And it was a hilarious situation for a journalist like me to have one. Firstly most businessmen in India look to cutting costs. And at what levels. The first time round in-coming calls cost then Rs 28 per call. So news organisations opted to get pagers. Plastic little gadgets they were.
The problem was you had to step out to a telephone, public booth to make that call. In which period you’ve lost out on precious time. More so the kind of words or language you used was restricted. That operator would tell us, “Ma’m pl change the tone & words of your text we’ve been instructed not to flash it..” this was when i had to flash a message to a colleague that some shoot-out or encounter has taken place. 90s was the period in Bombay (Mumbai) city when we experienced maximum shoot outs & encounters. Daylight killings, hired assassins to kill all sorts.
Then we couldn’t think of wasting time as journalists. We’d be told pl use some other word. So finally we approached the commissioner or police & the Jt CP. They took a list of names of all leading journalists & gave it to the pager service providing companies to exempt us from the ‘restricted use of lang.”
Reginald Fessenden first invented the shore-to-ship radio telephony during the world war was strictly for military use. Then developed hand held radio transmitters remember these huge talk heft men saying, “Calling Peter, answer..the car plate no so and so is parked wrongly…” then swish…some noise as the radio frequency tried to connect…? these were a stage before the hand held battery long armed hand set was first introduced.
So we then got a cordless phone sized cellphone wit Rs 16 incoming, another Rs 8 outgoing calls. SMSing was UNHEARD of then..since then the technology has leapt by leagues even in India. Today, even a sweeper or beggar has a cellphone. They may not enough to eat, but thanks to the TRAI the rates have dipped. We realised as consumers we were being simply fleeced. Thankfully NOT all our tech guys behave like clerks, or invent something & then rake few millions & sit back on arm chair. Many are constantly upgrading this tech.
Today we have communications, internet, instant messaging, sms, schedules, calendar, music, videos, MMS, name it & it is all there on that one handset, the instrument. Yes those days of long fat, bulky Nokia handsets that resembled a metal bottle are gone.
Today sleeker cellphones, colourful screens, LCD screens, variety of colours for the handsets, their covers & musical tunes surround us. Blackberry has revolutionised communications with instant messaging-BBM, I-phone, now Android phone & this is just the beginning..except that traditional bell ring is still missed…and many quietly use it as their ring tone…