I wrote this story, one of my favs when I was a columnist for the New Indian Express. During those days, Indian telecommunication services were still rather primitive and fixing a new phone line was helluva fun. Read on...
Before I moved to the suburbs of good old Madras, I was perfectly content with my domestic communication system. But once we left downtown Madras, everything changed.
After School, I’d be busy playing Cricket at the neighboring play ground, when I would catch sight of my sister standing on top of our fence, screaming and hitting a galvanized bucket with a Neem stick. This was her signal that I had a phone call. I would make my way as fast as I could back to the house, only to find that the caller had long lost patience. And as we had a palatial estate, all of us had to face the same problem.
A portable cordless phone seemed the answer. One of those advertised as being capable of receiving or sending calls from anywhere but the copywriter had obviously never tried calling from the outer depths of Madras. Often, I would pull out the antenna, push it on my ears and get an earful of loud static or it would be a wrong number, usually for a pharmacy (one day a caller impudently asked if I could deliver a Condom!). Sometimes, like a slasher movie, very faintly, I would hear the melancholic screaming of a caller frantic to make contact.
When we complained, the phone company staff called (in person, since he couldn't get through on the phone). He explained that to obtain satisfactory results from their particular cordless, we had to suspend the receiving base out of a window and take the call directly below it, at a distance of no more than 20 feet. Since the place where we normally received our calls was a good 200 yards from the fixed base, his suggestion was impractical. Taking pity on our predicament, he recommended us a superior model (an unknown Czechoslovakian brand) which he promised would solve our problems and absolutely work anywhere, upto even 500 yards and beyond. So, after 2 days of protracted haggling, he fixed us a much more powerful model with a bulky base station for substantially more money. We crossed our fingers and hoped this would work.
Work, it certainly did. That evening as I sat outside in our garden talking on the new cordless with a classmate, all of a sudden I was unable to hear him any more. Two jet fighters were circling our estate at a hazardous height. I promptly shut my cordless and ran for cover. Next morning, an enraged Army Officer zeroed in onto our house and confiscated our new cordless, since it was apparently capable of ringing up pilots in mid-air and redirecting them to multiple destinations which allegedly included my school, our office and the local electricity board.
After a month, we decided on an entirely new telephone system, one with extensions everywhere. The phone guy said that this system was designed to work for us. And so it might well have done, had it worked at all. The first thing it did was simply cut you off mid-conversation or connect us to a wrong number when we called. Then like a hungry toddler, it would start mysteriously ringing throughout the night. I registered a complaint with the firm which sold it to us (from a nearby PCO) because by now the only person we could call was mom in her kitchen. The phone guys came, heard our sorry tales and fitted an entirely new system, almost free of charge.
Most recklessly, I showed Amma, my grand mother, how to use it. I told her that if the yard extension rang - Tring, Tring, Tring, (3 times) then it would be an internal call and she should answer it because it would be for her but if it should ring - Tring, Tring, Tring Tring (4 times), it would be an external call and she should leave it alone. Unluckily, she couldn't differentiate between the 3 Trings and the 4 Trings. The result was that she answered just about every call. And then couldn't hear who it was!
So I showed her (again stupidly) how to transfer calls. And though, she would transfer every call, quite correctly to one of the extensions; the troubles was she would never ring the right extension, and only ring half a dozen times, so by the time I would reach the kitchen or the living room, it would stop ringing and start up elsewhere. Soon, the annual holidays set in and I was practically running around our house, chasing the rings - from room to room, floor to floor.
By this time, I had lost my patience and was about to rip out the whole wretched system, when a pal remarked that I was looking a lot trimmer, smart and athletic. Unexpectedly, I realised that I was indeed looking at a fortune. I at once hurried back to my archaic PC and started typing. The finished work was soon in the weekend paper titled 'Dial Your Way to Fitness – Install a New Telephone and Watch those Pounds Melt Away.’