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For whom bells toll

BELIEVE IT or not, there was a time when telephones were as big a novelty as television in its novelty day. That, if I may say so, is a thing of the past. But Alexander Graham Bell must still be smiling.

india Updated: Jun 23, 2006 00:15 IST

BELIEVE IT or not, there was a time when telephones were as big a novelty as television in its novelty day. That, if I may say so, is a thing of the past. But Alexander Graham Bell must still be smiling.

Mr Bell moved on after saying “Hello” that fateful day (night?) and with the passage of time, 10 other ways evolved, once the contraption he invented, began ringing off the hook. Soon “Hello!”, “Hello?”, “Hello…”, “Hulllloh”, “Hulllllloooooooo”, “Hullll!$#*^%”, gave way to the yuppittie but very cheery, “Yellow”, “Yup?”, “Ya?”, “Yo!” and the rather rude and uncouth, “Yes?”.

Times changed and the ungainly hook and receiver of the original model, got sleeker and smaller, almost like the shrinking vermiform appendix under evolution effect. One day man said, “It's a pain! Why not have it removed?” And so, like the viscera post appendisectomy, the telephone too looked much sleeker minus the hook and receiver. Enter the mobile phone. AG Bell was still beaming with each bell.

With the hook gone and CLIP (Caller Line Identification Presentation) in, the phrase ‘ringing off the hook’ became obsolete and last heard, was well on way to becoming extinct, much like the Indian tiger. Again modes of answering an incoming call underwent a sea change. Now that one could ‘see’, who was disturbing the afternoon siesta, one could either say, “What?” through gritted teeth, or else on the other side of the answering divide, “Hiiiiiieeeeeeee, how’s you?”

Now let's take a look from the caller’s perspective. With a plethora of private players invading the backwaters of civilization, our dear State, the playing field is narrowing by the day (much like Ashok Marg at rush hour), and all of them want a piece of the consumer pie. Miraculously, that pie is like PC Sircar Jr’s ‘Water of India’ trick. The water never stopped flowing from his lota and the queue of consumers lining up to jump onto the mobile bandwagon, never seems to end! They even tell me there’re more from where the rest came!

Keeping the flock loyal to the mobile service, can be one pain in the you-know-what. So they came up with the unique idea of caller tunes. Now instead of the monotonous tring-tring, your caller could hear a song: Bollywood, Hollywood, Tollywood, Pop, Rock, Reggae and more, whatever pleased you.

Recently, I happened to call a bank executive. Now I didn’t know this Jhonny from Adam, yet, the caller tune that greeted me was, ‘Kabhi-kabhi mere dil mein khayal aataa hai, ki jaisi tujh ko banaya gaya hai mere liye…’ Gawd! Was this character not ‘normal’, or did we get separated at the Kumbh?

Then there’s my LIC agent — a 75-year-old grandfather of four — and he plays, ‘Kajrare, kajrare tore kare, kare naina...’. If anything, my eyes are certainly not something to wax eloquent about and his clientele is not such that would warrant such a risqué(y) choice.

Bottom line: Even Cheri has a caller tune and only for me. It goes, ‘Who let the dogs out…’