Punjabi by nature: From trunk calls to Udta Punjab | punjab$dont-miss | Hindustan Times
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Punjabi by nature: From trunk calls to Udta Punjab

My generation, the one born in the 70s, is certainly a unique one. Not only was it witness to life before the tech revolution altered the world, but it also experienced this change firsthand at an age when it could make good use of it. This topic became the highlight of a discussion when I had some old friends over for drinks recently.

punjab Updated: Jun 12, 2016 10:18 IST
Khushwant Singh
The discussion soon veered towards music, and since the evening was all about nostalgia, we couldn’t be far from the word ‘cassette’.
The discussion soon veered towards music, and since the evening was all about nostalgia, we couldn’t be far from the word ‘cassette’.(Photo: iStock)

My generation, the one born in the 70s, is certainly a unique one. Not only was it witness to life before the tech revolution altered the world, but it also experienced this change firsthand at an age when it could make good use of it. This topic became the highlight of a discussion when I had some old friends over for drinks recently.

The trigger, that took us back so many years, perhaps lay in the conversation about the continuous invasion of mobile phones in our daily lives. So much so that one of the fellows, while pouring his Patiala peg, had his spouse’s name flashing repeatedly on the screen of his mobile phone.

‘Bloody Trunk-call’ ‘zamana’ was good. At least one couldn’t dial at will, he remarked, sparking a further discussion on the pros and cons of trunk calls (which means long-distance calling). The spouse issue apart, it’s a phrase which the present generation has never heard, let alone encountered, said one of my friends, while putting his phone on DND mode. Just in case.

“And the kind of harrowing experiences one underwent because of these trunk calls,” I said, jumping into the debate.

When, in 1979, my parents shifted to Chandigarh from Punjab, we did not have a telephone for the longest time. Yes, that strange looking black instrument that only made a ‘tring’ sound was a mark of your social standing. In other words, the only way for us to connect with the rest of the world was to drive to the Sector 17 general post office and book a trunk call. And unless you booked a lightning or an urgent call, which were extremely expensive, the wait at the post office would be close to agony, especially if it was summer. Mercifully, there was Berdy’s Rotisserie Chicken close by, which kept us occupied while operators sweated it out to make the connection. And if they managed to connect your call, who can forget their archetypical voice - ‘Tin minut hogaye’ since that was the time limit for each call. ‘Extend kar deo’, one would say, especially if it was a soapopera kind of a situation.

The discussion soon veered towards music, and since the evening was all about nostalgia, we couldn’t be far from the word ‘cassette’. Especially, since I had visited the iconic Deepak Radios housed in Sector 17 only a few days back. That it has turned into a little shack from this once mega music store, was a devastating feeling. Its rapid decline? The sudden death of the cassette. Try giving a tape to a young fellow and observe how he looks at it. And if you want to add to his woes, give a walkman along with it and ask him to make a connection between the two. Oh boy!

Our situation was no different as I started talking about a radio my grandfather owned. Its unique feature was that it was the only one among many that would catch the evening BBC Urdu service. The only snag being that for it to catch BBC, it had to be carried to the ‘kotha’ and placed in a particular position. And once it found the required frequency, Mehar Singh my grandfather’s ‘Man Friday’ would call out ‘aagaya’.

Talking about ‘kotha’ or rooftop, every house that owned a TV, related to it far more than just sleeping. These rooftops also housed the moody antennas which received broadcast signals. The new generation would be amused to hear that programmes on Pakistani television were the flavour of the time for which the antenna had to be tilted in a particular direction. That it had to be rotated even to receive Doordarshan for favourite programmes like Chitrahaar (a half hour collection of Bollywood songs) is a separate matter. However, the big challenge was to communicate to the guy on the rooftop that whether he was rotating the antenna in the correct direction or not.

In our home, we would use the fireplace funnel to make our voice travel to the top ‘Hore, hore, bass, thoda hore’.

The discussion that carried on till the wee hours of the morning ended on wishing the new generation well. About how Punjab wants its youth to script a new story, and not Udta Punjab.

Email the writer at singhkhushwant@hotmail.com