Friday, May 31, 2019

Things we Grew Up With - Telephones, Directories, Trunk Calls and PP Numbers

In the late seventies and eighties telephones were owned by a few - the rich or the powerful or the government officers. Now get this straight right away - there were no mobile phones those days - all we had were landlines. The instruments were normally black in colour and the early ones did not even have a dialer. You picked up the phone and an operator came up on the other end and helped you by connecting you to whatever number you want. Later on we had phones with dialing facilities and it took forever to dial a few numbers as the dialer would wind up full length and then slide back noisily. Phone numbers were short - 4 or 5 numbers. One rarely made phone calls, used them to book long distance trunk calls and send phonograms.

These black landline instruments were given prominence at our homes and were kept in their own holy corners. Some telephones had well embroidered cloths draped on them that gave them a look of importance. Next to the telephone was the all important telephone directory which was used to track down people and their numbers. The directories were heavy enough to kill a person. Its an amazing piece of work, that telephone directory and one must see it to believe it. Later on most authors would use the directory to find names for their characters.

Most people did not have a telephone those days because everyone was poor. So all the neighbours would give the number of the one neighbourhood telephone to their friends and relatives as a PP number which meant that the telephone owner would take the trouble to call these people over when they got PP calls! Now I forgot what PP means.

Another important aspect of telephones was the long distance call provision which was called trunk calls. If I had to call Bangalore from Hyderabad I had to call a helpline number for trunk calls and give them the name of the person to be reached and the number at which they'd be reached. The truck call guys would then call that number and call back - in a time frame that took anytime between twenty minutes to an hour for which time you just waited - and he'd or she'd tell you that the call was through. You could hear the operator telling the other person where this call came from and introducing you two almost. And then there would be a frenzy of loud hellos because time on trunk calls were money and the lines were bad. So everyone would shout the loudest and repeat one another, and speak the fastest in an attempt to save money. But it invariably would lead to much 'what, what' from the other end, or the line would conveniently go 'dead' and we had to wait for the call again which would come if we were lucky. Most deaths, illnesses, births were conveyed this way.

Telephones were used mostly for formal and short calls as they were fixed to one spot and were not very convenient to lug around or cootchie coo into. It was not until much later that phones came into public space, and then, became mobile. Now phones do pretty much everything for you.

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