Friday, 23 November 2012

Indexed Stories - 5

Recently my friend Ruma Chakraborty posted the following on Facebook:

“When I heard a friend had tried to call me twice and I had missed them...for a minute or ten I longed for the phones of the past…the kind that had no mute buttons but rang till your head ached and you picked up....the kind in the photo below! New Zealand Telecom recycles well!”
New Zealand Telecom SHEEP - TELEPHONES ART
Needless to say it got 45 likes, 2 shares 9 comments and I decided to include it in this blog. It made me wonder whether Calcutta Telephones or BSNL would have tons of old telephones locked away somewhere and whether they would commission an artist to do something with them. I suppose not – too much paper work to dispose off junk and this perhaps explains their huge properties!  Who knows what they conceal behind those walls…
Recently, a new found friend from abroad was coming to stay with us in Kolkata. He was coming from Varanasi. However much I tried to communicate with him, his brand new Indian cell phone did not work. So, urgent messages had to depend on nightly emails. When he missed his train due to the vagaries of the ticketing system of the Indian Railways and I waited at Howrah station for a train that was two hours late, there was no way to get in touch with him. I returned home to send frantic emails. Then I realized that to make matters worse I had not read the amended date carefully enough.  Finally, he did board a train the next day and arrived at my door step – smiling victoriously.
After breakfast and over a cup of black Coorg coffee I asked him,”So Steven, what’s the matter with your cell phone connection?”
“I bought this phone and sim card in Mumbai and gave all the documents they needed and yet the phone did not get activated. I tried to get it done from the next city I visited and they took all my papers once again and yet the damn thing did not work! Now I am on the last leg of my India sojourn and I will go back with so much credit on the phone which will be worthless elsewhere”, he explained.
“Why did you not call me from a public telephone booth? There are hundreds of them everywhere!” I asked.
“Telephone booths?” he asked.
“Did you not notice the STD booths…”I trailed off, immediately knowing what had gone wrong and I had that which you call a ROFL moment. After my belly ache had subsided I said, “Steven! STD is Subscriber Trunk Dial…not Sexually Transmitted Diseases. What did you take us for - a nation of promiscuous men?” This time we both laughed while trying not to spill our coffee. Steven left India with a dud cell phone as a memento and the knowledge that STD means much more than Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Why on earth did the Telecom department think of a name like that? Wouldn't National Network Telephones (NNT) worked as well? And International Network Telephone (INT)? Better still could one not simply write “TELEPHONE BOOTH”? There is an obvious disconnect here – the usual mindless public sector mandarins and there archaic mindsets bent on complicating things. Signage in India has a long way to go.
My E page has just two entries – just the same two names brought forward in all of them. Eureka Forbes Service Centre that services our drinking water filter and not something to write about. The other entry is my good friend Eugene Datta. I have many stories to tell about him, but, Eugene is a very close friend and I respect his privacy. So, after much consideration and a conversation with him I have permission to divulge just one anecdote.
Eugene is much younger than us – that is, Smriti and me. She met him during a trip to Bhutan about 28 years ago and that started an inseparable friendship between us. We have been privy to Eugene’s “evolution” as a young man and as an author. He did not like his job as a sub-editor in a newspaper and yearned to be a full-time writer. His trials and tribulations throughout have been many and eventful. One such event was his being invited to a writer’s residency in Switzerland for a whole year that was also extended for another six months! For a struggling creative person with stretched resources, I know what that entails. Clothes, warm clothes, coats and jackets, a sensible pair of shoes, an assortment of personal belongings and a bag to fit all of it in. The laptop needed servicing – a bag for that too. The list is long. His already stretched resources were now beyond stretching anymore. But, Eugene somehow managed to get everything together, thanks to some amount of judicious cutting corners.
One such item of purchase was a pair of sneakers that was not too informal – a wear- them-with-everything kind of pair. For this he searched the small stalls of Metro Galli. For those who have not been there, here’s a description of this alley crowded with stalls and shops.
The alley derives its name from the art deco Metro movie theatre on the main road and not the Metro Railway. The Metro Channel opposite and at the foot of Mr. Vladimir Lenin’s statue may have – I am not sure. The alley starts at this point and ends on that part of Moti Sil Street that has a profusion of shops selling all kinds of prophylactics - prompting the nickname Rubber Street. In between there are all kinds of shops selling cameras, clothes, watches, et al. There are also some that sell glass panes and mirrors. Glass House being the one that supplied most of my own requirements. As one enters Metro Galli from the Chowringhee end there are stalls selling shoes on the right. Eugene must have bought his pair of shoes from one of these stalls here. I too had bought a pair from there once and they were so stubborn that I had to damage them in order to justify buying new ones!
The stubborn pair before they were destroyed
Anyway, Eugene finally had his things sorted out and was soon in Switzerland. He spent a great deal of time writing and pounding the pavements of Basel. The Metro Galli shoe served him well for a while, but, finally gave way at the most inopportune moment. In a hurry to get to the opening of a show of his co-resident, he hurried down the stairs; the sole of one of the shoes came off. Eugene stumbled, fell down the stairs and broke his right wrist.
You think that this didn’t augur well? You are wrong…wait till I tell you how life changing this accident turned out to be.
To be continued…


Illicit and Other Stories


New Zealand Telecom SHEEP - TELEPHONES ART