Telephonic troubles

A once-prized possession lies neglected these days. Regrettable, considering the effort I employed to acquire it! Several years ago, after hours of window shopping, I chanced upon the elegant object in an offbeat store. Although just as effectual as it was in the past, that deep blue device, which matches my furnishings, now rests untouched by my bed. A sleek mobile has supplanted my telephone, for I rarely use my landline.

I remember the phase in my life when I yearned for a telephone connection. In the early 1990s, that was hard to obtain. While my application was being processed (with seemingly sadistic slowness!), I relied on an STD booth. The man in-charge would be delighted when I talked to family and friends out of town but, when I spoke locally, he would urge me to surrender the kiosk to a long-distance caller. No doubt, the money he made from inter-city colloquies, however brief, far exceeded what he earned from my protracted Bangalore conversations.

Such chats were uncommon, for the simple reason that not many of my colleagues at school had telephones. The Principal had one, and there were occasions when I needed to consult her on an important matter. It could only be after work, and since a single session proved inadequate, we engaged in daily discussions. Every evening, the man at the booth would knock frantically on the glass door. Ignoring the risk to his knuckles, I would refuse to vacate the cabin.

As my telephone connection remained unsanctioned, a cousin of mine came to the rescue. He lived in Delhi and, when I was there in the summer of 1992, he advised me to seek the assistance of Rajesh Pilot, Minister of Telecommunications at the time. I was dumbfounded. Surely I could not ring that dignitary’s doorbell, demanding high-level intervention! My cousin explained that once a week the minister invited members of the public to his residence to learn their requests. It might be worth paying a visit!

Arriving at the house, my cousin and I joined a large group of people on the lawn. Security personnel instructed us to form a semicircle. Accompanied by his secretary, whose job it was to collect petitions from those assembled, the VIP appeared. He moved at a leisurely pace from one person to the next and finally came to me. When I asked him to grant me a telephone connection, he remarked sternly, “Everybody wants one. Doctors and lawyers get preference.”

“Sir, don’t you think teachers are important?” I asked respectfully. Rajesh Pilot smiled. When I heard of his tragic death in 2000, I recalled with gratitude his assurance in a sunlit garden, less than a decade earlier. Soon after that memorable meeting, I was able to wish my Principal on her birthday, from a phone in my home! 

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