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The Age Of Chatter Boxes

From Bakelite telephones to sleek BlackBerry the journey has been a flippant twenty years.
World has changed much, back then when the telephones were in dial mode, you can call that the Mumage- we talked less, surreptitiously and guiltily. Along the years Indians rapidly learnt to shed their guilt of enjoying themselves and did so with abandon. “Teacher we don’t need no self control” became the consumerist creed. Remember the time when “Talking” was considered a national waste- almost a crime during the dark years of the Emergency.

                                            Remember this picture: We two have two

 The hegemonic dictates “Talk Less Work More” and “We Two Have Two” were pasted on the sides of buses, on the derriere of lorries, on signs all over the country. It had filled the Indian mind with a foreboding sense of hushed fear. And then a couple of decades later came the riot of excessiveness of the cell phone era with their luring “Talk More On Free Time” and “Free Talk” repeated in almost the same odious style of the infamous regime- plastering them on billboards and buses to colonize minds into endless inane jabbering. Well they succeeded- we are now in the age of constant communicating Jabberkhans: tell me if this breed can live without talking, SMSing or mailing inanities? Not anymore. It's Bol India Bol

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Looking back was it just twenty years ago that to make a phone call, we hostel inmates of St.Teresa’s College, Kochi had to beg and plead with the nuns. It was a period when the Rotary Dialing of the Indian Telecommunication System had yet to be replaced by the simple Push Button system. And the nuns of St.Teresa’s College considered the telephone a sacred instrument. So sacred, it required a Phone Guardian Angel, who put a lock in the holes of the 1 and 2 numbers of the finger wheel. The lock acted as an impediment and rendered it impossible to dial the numbers. Importantly, she strung the cold steel key on a chain and hung it around her neck; the key snuggled and sighed in the warmth of her deep valley.                                                             *    *     *     *

The telephone, a black crude bakelite instrument that belonged to the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India was placed in a hole in the wall. The Phone Angel, a young sixteen year old, with a squeaky voice was assigned no other work but to vigilantly guard the phone from seven in the morning till the commencement of classes and then again from four in the evening till bedtime. No one touched the finger dial, if anyone wished to make a call, the Phone Angel dialed the number before handing the receiver to the caller, collected the money, carefully wrote down the name and number in the logbook.

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     Calls to boyfriends meant trouble, big trouble. So boys incestuously called the hostel inmates, beautiful young girls, in the guise of father, brother and cousin. And the nuns kept tab on the outgoing calls and the entries that got more frequent were checked against numbers given by guardians. Numbers that didn’t correspond, they knew were fraught with dangerous signals and immediately the guardian was informed of the caller’s behaviour and the very important phone number like a precious jewel was handed to them on a slip of paper. The nuns thought this system of peeking into the minds of young girls was absolutely foolproof, the heartbeats of the girls were well under their control.
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Little did they know, young girls hopelessly in love would do anything to speak to their male friends. Those innocent young things were phone- tapping experts, who knew more about phones than the nuns. Unknown to the nuns, though the finger wheel of the phone was locked, the rotary dial telephone used the pulse dialing system, this worked by the telephone getting disconnected at specific intervals when the number was dialed. So one didn’t need to use the finger wheel, one had to just tap on the hook switch once for number 1, the telephone disconnected once and twice for number 2 and the telephone disconnected twice and so on and ten times for 0 and pause between the numbers.
Got that?

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Those days, young sweethearts may not have been on the Blackberry 24* 7 but the thrill of giving the Phone Angel the slip and tapping the phone accelerated the heartbeats to feverish speeds like no Blackberry can.


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