By Shubhomoy Banerjee
I stand outside Chetan Pan and Cold drinks corner, just across the road from the NDDB office, as you take a right from Upasna circle and move towards Ahmedabad. Hey! Don’t get bored by the vivid description of where I stand. I know it hardly matters to you, or for that matter to anyone who comes to Chetanbhai’s shop for paan, cigarettes, cold drinks or simply to spend some time away from the scorching heat, Surendranagar subjects its residents to. But I too have seen days of glory. It’s a different matter that now Chetanbhai uses me as a store room for the cold drink crates. It is easier for him doing so rather than taking them inside every night before he downs the shutter for the night.
I must admit, I have started looking ugly. It has been more than six years since Chetan bhai last put a coat of fresh paint on me. Those were, I must say, my heydays. Mobile phones were yet to become a rage and internet telephony was just making its way in. In fact there must have been only one shop which had facilities for internet telephony, the cyber café in the lane beside Axis bank. The Navratras were a rage for Chetanbhai. Long before he would worship her, on Diwali, the Goddess of wealth, Laxmi would have already showered her blessings on him. People especially those staying in the societies in and around Wadhwan, would line up till late into the night to talk to their relatives settled at the other end of the world. I would often feel surprised, when people would say “Good Morning Beta, Kem Chhe” at 9 in the night. But slowly I came around to come to terms with the fact that while its night here in Surendranagar, it must be day in the other part of the world.
Those were the days, when BSNL had not come out with the One India Plan and other companies like Airtel, Reliance and Tata had not made forays into the Land Line segment. They call it Fixed phone, I suppose. Sim cards were hard to come by. Not like today, when you get a sim card for as less as 5 Rs. with Rs. 30 talk time for a month. And yes, even incoming calls to mobile phones were charged. “What a fucking joke”, many of you would say. But that is true. And yeah, getting a land line connection at home was far tougher than getting a pass percentage in the board exams. So it would be me and only me in the moments of (now lost) glory. STD calls made between 11 in the night and 8 in the morning would be charged at one fourth. That would precisely be the time, when the working class would queue up to call up children and relatives studying or staying in “out states” (That’s what the Gujjus call other states). Of course, the shop would close at 12 in the night, but Chetanbhai, the shrewd businessman he is, would open it quite early at 7:00 in the morning. Chetanbhai had very tastefully done my interiors. I must admit he has a great aesthetic sense, though he has spent half his life applying gulkand to the betel leaves. There was a small fan which would not make much noise. There was a small sleek tubelight too. All that, however, is gone now. The fan holds a place of pride at a chemist’s shop in the bazaar and the tube light along with its frame lies in Chetanbhai’s house, that too because even a bhangaarwala had once refused to buy it.
I have been privy to so many intimate conversations of various aspects of peoples’ lives. Maganbhai’s son Jinkal found his love here. I still remember the day when Jalpa told “hun pan tane bahu prem karuchhu” (I too love you a lot). Now, stop getting ideas. I was not eavesdropping, but how could I have helped, if Jinkal had put the speaker on. Jinkal had started jumping on my wooden floor and I had started shaking out of fear. Thankfully, I didn’t come crashing down. However, I must also thank Chetanbhai for reprimanding Jinkal for jumping. Must admit, Chetanbhai took great care of me. It was here that Maulik, Jethabhai’s son got the news of his getting selected for some course in America. The 95 dialing had begun just a few days back and people were happy that they could dial 9579 instead of 079 for Ahmedabad even during the peak diurnal hours and charged lesser. Rameshbhai had availed of my services to convey the news of the death of his wife Shardaben to his relatives around the world. I felt sad for Rameshbhai. He seemed to love his wife very much as he would often burst into tears conveying the news of her death.
However, people slowly stopped realizing and acknowledging my importance in their lives. Post 2006,cheaper mobile phones started hitting the markets in a big way. You could get phones at as less as Rs. 1200. Chetanbhai had stocked many such phones for a long time. However, the odd labourer or a rickshawwallah would still use me. SIM cards were probably still hard to come by, you see. But my significance was totally lost when some, what do they call it here, Chinese phones started being sold in India. I still did not have much to worry, many would think, since they being “imported maal” would be costly. Right? Wrong. Now even the laariwaala across the road, you know, the one who sells aamras in the summers and khariseeng in the winter, possessed a mobile phone. And as if to rub salt on my already wounded self, SIM cards had also become cheaper. Everyone possessed a phone now. The truckwallah who would buy biris from Chetanbhai’s shop, the pastiwallah who used to come to buy old copies of Divya Bhaskar from Chetanbhai, even the guy who controlled the road roller when the road was being broadened. I was not needed anymore. What a fucking joke, I would often think.
I have been witness to changing times. And my diminishing importance as well. The asbestos cover above my head, to protect my interiors from the rains is now gone. The road infront is now a four laned one. There is a Hyundai showroom just down the road. Jinkal was here the other day, with his wife. He has just acquired a Blackberry. He was showing it off to Chetanbhai. I say “he was here with his wife” as it was not Jalpa. I know Jalpa far too well to forget her. They would often meet at the shop. I don’t know what transpired between them. Jinkal had left for Bombay just a year after the floods. Even if they had a break up it would have been on a mobile phone. It’s so easy with one, isn’t it? All you have to do is, type, “Get the hell out of my life” on your mobile phone and send it to the other party. What a fucking joke! Maulik is here too. For preparations for his thesis viva, or so I gather from his talks with Chetanbhai. I wonder what America has done to him. He shouts F words at his girlfriend on his mobile phone, that too publicly. Now, tell me is that what is expected? There is something called privacy goddamnit. I don’t know what the last word means, I just heard Maulik shouting it over his mobile phone. Rameshbhai has retired from his job. His daughter has been married off to an NRI engineer in Canada.He too doesnot require me,as, I gather he has got some “ISD plan” on his phone gifted by his daughter, the last time, she was here during Uttarayan. Maganbhai, Jinkal’s father does come here for his Mawa supari, but as I often see him, he is mostly glued to his Nokia 2700. And Jethabhai has got a new i-phone, so that he can read Maulik’s mails even on the move.
And here I am, the doomed STD telephone booth, with a rotten base (The rot started after the floods, there is a brick underneath to prevent me from falling off), peeling paint, laden with empty bottles of cold drinks, waiting to be sold off to the Bhangarwala.