Trunk call

Trunk Call

Sometime  in  1996  I  was  posted  in  a  remote  location  on  the border in  the  north. Life was  very  boring   and  the only   companion  used  to  be   a  transistor   which  would connect  us  to  the  world  through  AIR/ BBC news, Forces  request and  Hindi songs . Though  we had a telephone cable  laid  till our  location  but to  get  a  call  to  Delhi  we  had   to  go  through  three  exchanges at  Uri, Baramulla and Srinagar. As  the  distance increased the  decibel  of  the  speech  would  go  down. Srinagar  would  be  hardly  audible.  Being  newly  married  and  an unending urge  to  speak  to  ones  wife   the young officers   never  give  up.  A  trunk call  had  to  be  booked  in  the  morning with Srinagar exchange  and  then  the  wait  would  begun for  the  call  to  materialize.  And sometime  the  wait   would  stretch  for  hours  and  in  the  evening  the  booking    would  automatically get  cancelled    by  6  PM. Of  course   the  exchange  people  had  their  own  priorities  to  put  the  calls  through . We  knew  that  they would  give  preferences  to  hierarchy. But  we  would  also  not  give  up  and  religiously every morning  would  ring  up our  local exchange  and  pester  the  operator   to  put  our  call  through   on  high  priority.  At  times  some  of  us  would  make  a  small  talk   with  the  operator  and  try  to  find  out to  which  place  does  he  belong to. And  if  luck would  have  it  and  he  is  from  our   native place , would  quickly  switch  over  to  local  dialect and  then   you  were  in  for  luck  that  day. Anyway  out  of  the  five  young  officers in  the  headquarters me and one more  were newly  married. The  others  allowed  us  priority rights  over  them as they  were  bachelors.  When  number  of  days  would  pass  and  all our  normal  efforts  would  fail  then  sometime  we  would  threaten  the  telephone operators  with  dire  consequences  saying  that  we  are  going  to  put  up  a  complaint  that  you  are deliberately   not  putting   our  calls  through. The  poor  fellow  would  give  us  the  some  excuses   like, Sir  there  was  a  line-fault’  or there  was  lightening’ or  ‘the  rain’  etc  etc .  In  the  end  we  would  say, ‘we  understand  all that  but  then  today   you  must  put  me  through. Understand  yaar!  my  wife is  not  keeping  well.’ To  which  he  would  give    the  routine  reply, ‘ Sure  Sir’ and  then  amidst  the  daily  work  in the  office  the  wait  for  the  call  would  re-commence  with  a  new ray hope. Generally  Wednesday  was the  day  allotted  for  trunk  call  booking  for  our  area.

And then on  some Wednesday   finally  when the  call   would  get  through  and  then  the  melodrama  would  start. The  conversation would  be  like  this;

“tring  tring”

Hello , Hello”  I  would shout into the  receiver.

Sir  , you  had  booked  a  call  for Delhi?” would  come  a  faint  voice of  the operator at  Srinagar.

“Yes  , Yes,  I  have”. I  would   be  shouting   louder.

“Sir , had  you booked  a call  to  Delhi?” I could  hear  the  operator’s  faint  voice  again as  if  he  had  not  heard   me.

“Yes  Yes.  I  have  booked  the  call. Please  put  me  through” . I  was  shouting   louder  now  and  surely  the  clerks  working   in  the  adjacent  office  with  which I   had  a  wooden  partition     now  knew  that  the  their  Sir  is  about  to  have a  conversation with  his  young  wife. The  Head clerk  who  was  a  wise  old  man   would  quickly  tell the  other  three  clerk  in the  room , “you guys  go  for  a  tea  break”. The  clerks  would  smile  and  move  out.

“Yes,   Please  put me  through”. I  would  shout  again  in  the hope  that  the  Operator,  Thunder  or  Hail  should  not  snap  the  connection  to  my  beloved now .

Hello  Madam, can you  hear me? I  could  hear  the operator shout.  Which  Madam is  he talking  to ? I  was  becoming restless  now.

Hello  Operator, Hello” I  was almost  screaming.

Hello  Madam, There  is  a  call  from Uri”.   I  could  hear  the  operator shout  at  the   other  line.

I  just  hoped  that my  Mother-in-law  does not  pick  up  the  phone  like  last  time when I  got  through. The  precious   three  minutes which  I  get,  will get  wasted  in hearing her say,  Hello…..Hello …. Hello ….. Hello ….. and she  would  not  understand  that it  was  her  Son-in law  desperately  wanting  to  talk to her  daughter . And  after  three minutes as  per  the  orders  the operator snapped  the  line.  And  I  was  left  bereft . I  promptly  wrote  a  letter  to my  wife  that  I will call on Wednesdays  and that  she  should   keep  herself   around  the  room  in  which  the  phone  is  kept and grab it  the  moment  it  rings. I  also explained  in  the  letter what  she  should  do  when   you  when she gets a  call   and  can’t hear or  very  faintly  hear  some  sound    from  the  other  end. I  wrote   that  She  should  shout,  “Yes  , I can  hear you” into  the  receiver irrespective  of  whether  she  hears  anything  or  not. Only then  the  operator  will  put the  call   through. I  hoped  she   had  imbibed  my  instructions well.

After a  few  seconds pause  I  could  hear   a  faint “yes” from my  other side. It  was  my  wife’s voice. Finally  she  had  picked  up  the  phone.

Hello  Operator  , I can hear  her  please  put  me  through” I  shouted  restlessly  as    one  minute  had  already  elapsed  out  of  my  kitty  of  three.

Hello Madam, please  speak to  Sir.” said  the  operator.

Hello  Darling, can  you hear  me”? I shouted  in excitement

Hello, is it  you? hello  is  it  you?” There  was so  much  disturbance  in  the line that as  always I  could  hear  a very  faint  voice of my  wife.

I wondered  as  to  who  nominated  Mr    Graham Bell  for   Noble  prize   for  making telephone which  can’t  put  me  through  to  my  wife.. My  throat now  was  almost  choked  for I was  continuously  shouting  for  last  three  minutes. When  I  looked  outside  the  glass  window  of  my  office  the  clerks were   standing  and  taking  a smoke.

Yes it  is  me” I  tried to  shout  but  my  voice  stifled  now. I  took  a  sip  of water  from the  glass  on my table  and said , “Yes, can you  hear  me”.

“Yes, I  can but  very  faintly”  she  said.  She  could finally  hear  my  voice  and  I  hers. My  ears  could  not  believe   for  they  had  heard  the  voice  of  the  nightingale  again . Her  beautiful  smiling  face  came  in  front  of  my  eyes.  Just  listening  to  her voice  made   me  complete  again. Amidst  my snap  dream about  my  wife  came  in  a huskier   voice through the  receiver.

“Try  to  finish , try  to  finish ,Sir. I have  to  connect  the  next  call”.said  the  operator.

The  dammed  operator. He  always  butted in too  early. I  had  hardly  spoken for   few  seconds, I  thought. My  mind raced  fast, I just had  a  few  seconds  left before  the  operator  would  disconnect.

“I  love  you.” I  gathered  all  my  courage  and  shouted  at  the  top  of  my  voice.

And before  I  could  hear  the  answer  from  the  other  end the  line  snapped.  I  could  see  the  clerks   turn their heads   around  outside  the  window  with  a  smile. I  innocently  kept  the  receiver  back  in  its  place, sat  on the  chair  and  opened   the  next  file . From  the  corner  of  my  eye I could  see  the   old Head  clerk  signal  the  clerks  to  come  inside  now.

For  me  the   wait for  next Wednesday    had  started again.

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