The Landline


Today, as I sat down for lunch with my grandparents, my Grandma came up with the conversation revolving around the excessive use of mobile phones these days.

“You know, I heard this in the news,” she said to make her story sound more authentic, “A man..” and boom, I was introduced to a character who was so attached to the smartphone that he insisted on it being buried with him when he finally exited this world. His wishes were faithfully carried out. His beloved smartphone was placed in the coffin with him, and one could hear notification beeps in his grave for at least as long as the battery lasted.

She and Grandpa had a great laugh.


“Well”, she sighed, “scientists have claimed that the habitual smartphone users are apt to lose their sense of humour; therefore, they won’t find this funny,” she said as she passed me the bowl of rice.

True, I didn’t find the anecdote funny since I knew where this was coming from. I had been a couch potato with my eyes stuck on the smartphone screen, scrolling miles through the social media platforms and stalking random people for the past two days. She was utterly frustrated with the constant ping-pong of Facebook messaging, Instagram notification beeps, and my WhatsApp-ing by this time. So out of sheer embarrassment, I put my phone on silent mode and kept it aside.

The meal consisted of rice, rajma (beans), curd, pudina chutney and kheer.


“Wow, you’ve cooked all of my favourites today, anything special?” I asked as I poured rajma over rice on my plate.

“She’d been cooking all your favourite food for the past two days. I’m glad you finally noticed,” my Grandpa said.


His words left me speechless. I realised that I was all occupied by the virtual world and forget talking; I had not even recognised their presence in the past two days. After we had eaten lunch, Grandpa, as usual, went to his room for a nap, and I helped grandma do the dishes.


“Come, let us sit in the verandah,” she said, and I followed her.


“I missed that era when a telephone was just a device to make and receive calls,” she said as she sat comfortably in her chair. “Those days, when a number was tied to a family and not an individual. And for a family, it was a treasure chest that was kept under lock-and-key. But it’s a custom that no longer exists, it’s gone just the way letter writing and non-digital cameras did.”


“But that’s the beauty of evolving technology,” I said, as I rested my head in her lap just the way I used to, every time she was annoyed with me and would wait until she caressed my hair- a sign of her forgiveness. “Technology has made things easier and advanced to use; smartphones have brought the world at one’s fingertips.”


“Sure, virtually it might have brought the world at one’s fingertips, but it has distanced people in reality. Everyone has a phone in their hands, all the time, but rarely do they make an effort to call someone," she said.


“Grandma, it’s the generation of text messages and e-mails.”


“Hmm. Do you remember when we first got a landline connection at home?” she asked as she caressed my hair.


“Umm, not really.”

“Well, today is the day. We were the first ones in the colony to get a landline connection. When the technicians came to set up the connection, I still remember how excited you were, just four years old, and you went to all the nearby houses telling the neighbours and your friends that you’ve got a new phone.”


“How silly of me,” I said as I chuckled.


“It wasn’t silly, dear. I remember you sitting next to it in your baby chair for hours and hours, waiting for it to ring, and every time it would, your face would gleam with joy. Sometimes, there would be calls for the neighbours from their distant relatives, and you’d rush to their houses to bring them along. You’d sit there and watch them talk over the phone. I can bet you would not have experienced the same joy ever while getting a text message or an e-mail on your smartphone. Have you?”


And I had no words. Perhaps I was so busy typing and texting all these years that I had completely forgotten that feeling of calling someone.


As she stood up to leave for her room, she said-


“It’s sad how the invention of the phone, which was based completely on the exchange of human speech, has lost its roots, and today it is being used in every other possible way except for calling.”


And as I sat there, I could see she had made her point clear. Earlier, I used to call or get calls on my smartphone, but it became an increasingly rare event in my life over time.


In the past year or so, every time my mobile phone rang, it was either a spam call or someone demanding some work to be done. It’s quite hard to recall the last time I had called or considered the possibility of hearing from someone- “Hi, there. How are you? I just wanted to hear your voice and catch up”.


Sure, text messages and e-mails have their place. But a telephone call has its charm. It provides a personal touch, which a text message or e-mail simply can’t. When you hear the person’s voice, you’re able to assess the tone, detect the mood or the humour of that person – without a standard computerised emoji signposting it. Some days, it’s good to hear “A big hug” or “Love you” instead of reading the obligatory “xoxo” at the end of a text message or e-mail.


Just think of all the words in the world, in all the languages, shapes, sounds and subtle nuances, and all we ever send and receive are bland 🤣👏🏻😀👍or 😘.


There’s a saying, “When you live with a pack of wolves, you start howling like them.”


But I am done howling.  Now I want to talk to people in all the languages that I can.  And all I want is to hear their voices, in all their nuances.


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I'm a dreamer, scribbler, research scholar, and travel junkie from the land of five rivers, Punjab (India). 

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