As I remember, in early 1980s, I was about 10/12 years old. It was once a holiday and I was at home playing an indoor game with a few neighbourhood friends. There were two carpenters at the house courtyard engaged in repairing some old furniture. Suddenly we heard tring tring for a couple of seconds from inside the house. One of the carpenters said: ‘go and see, the telephone is ringing perhaps’. We said no, it was not telephone…it was an alarm clock.
Telephone in early 1980s was not a middle class gadget. It was considered as a super luxury item and only a few having influence in the power corridor had the privilege of owning telephones.
In 1990 I moved to Mumbai for a higher education. I was living at Bayander, a suburb in north-western Mumbai in Thane district. At that time neither I had access to telephone, nor my parents, who were living in Rourkela, an industrial city in Odisha. The STD technology had just been introduced and it was either trunk booking telephone or telegram that dominated the time. As an alternative to trunk booking, the only way of quick communication was sending telegrams. Once, my mother and younger brother had wished to visit me at Bayander. My father had sent a telegram saying that both my mother and brother were reaching Bombay (now Mumbai) on so and so date. I was needed to be in Dadar Station to receive them. Alas, the telegram did not reach me on time. One fine weekend night, while I and other roommates were partying at the apartment we resided, suddenly the doorbell rang. When we opened the door, I was surprise to see my mother and brother. Luckily in the absence of me they had safely reached with the help of a fellow passenger, whose destination was also Byander. The telegram reached 2 days later after my mother’s arrival.
As I moved to Pune in 1992 to pursue a Master Degree in Archaeology, we had access to an archaic looking telephone that was placed near the main gate of the institute. Still, my parents did not have their personal telephone. Once a week they used to go to a local booth at Rourkela to call me. The watchman who used to pick up the phone would come in running to our hostel, about 100 m apart from the gate to inform. I used to rush to the gate and after 15 m I would receive the call, some time it used to take hours to attend a call. Slowly as they moved to Bhubaneswar in mid 1990s they applied for a personal phone connection. I remember it took nearly 6 months to get the personal connection. In the same time our hostel was provided an extension, so we need not have to rush to the main gate. However to make calls, we hostelites, both boys and girls used to visit the nearby STD booth after 9 PM (it was charged half rate during 9 pm and 6 am). Sometimes we used to wait for hours for our numbers to come. The telephone bill was also very expensive. A minimum of Rs 50 was spent on each call of 5 min duration.
It was late 1990s. The cell phone had just arrived in India. I was still in Deccan College; I think my final year in Pune. Two elite Pune girls had taken admission for the Master’s programme. One of them carried a cell phone to the class, which became a topic for the campus gossip.
In the beginning of the present century, though cell phones had stepped in urban India, it used to be too expensive. I moved to Delhi in 2001 and in 2002 bought a second hand cell phone by spending about 4,000 rupees. That was the time both me and Kalini (my wife) started courtship. As we were physically apart, I was in Delhi and she was in Ahmedabad the cell phone came as a link. She used to call from Ahmedabad on every night but I had to pay heavy amount for the chargeable incoming calls.
2003 was a turning year for the cell phone. It was a dream of late Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of India’s largest industrial conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd to allow people to connect through cell phones at affordable prices. In the subsequent decade the destiny of humanity changed forever with the spread of cell phones. For the first time in human history people irrespective of their varied educational backgrounds, religions, castes and economic status could connect with their friends, relatives, clients, and others at any point of time at the minimal cost.
It changed my life too, but at the same time it made life more demanding and restless, and it could be true to most of the humans living on the planet. Technology has both positive and negative effects. Too many changes and up-gradations at short spans sometimes put us in difficult situations as we find difficult to adapt to a fast changing world. But it is a reality of 21st century and we have to flow through it.