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PLEASE DO NOT CALL

After thinking long and deep on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that if there is one thing in the world that I hate with the zeal of a fanatic then it’s the cell phone. My actions in relation to this device may make the statement sound false. For in a startling reversal of roles, I follow my cell phone wherever it goes, like the oh-so-sweet pug dog from the advertisement. I hear it ringing for attention from my bedroom, and I rush semi-clothed from the bathroom to attend to its demands. I sleep at night but keep a part of my consciousness awake, ever at the cell phone’s service. Once it rings, I must pick it up before the ringing reaches a crescendo rivalled only by the earth-shattering cry of Booth Saheb’s talented child in Sukumar Ray’s poem. If it is true that each man kills the thing he loves, then the reverse, I insist, is also correct. Each man pampers the object he hates, looking after it with a tenderness which can easily be mistaken for love but is actually its poisonous opposite.

But to be fair to the cell phone, I detest it not because it bawls when I am dangling from the front seat of the autorickshaw, or because it never lets me complete my bath, but because I dislike talking. That inherent aversion to straining my vocal chords naturally increases several times when I have to converse with an invisible person without a pause, frantically guessing what they might be feeling, and formulating my replies accordingly, not being able to make use of the rich repertoire of non-verbal communication comprising grimaces or smiles, which are my favourite short-cuts when talking face to face. As a result, each telephonic conversation leaves me utterly exhausted. My ears throb, my head burns, and after that tremendous attempt to concentrate all my mental energies on the conversation, my mind scatters all the more, the shards rushing pell-mell in every direction, leaving me with the unenviable task of gathering them one by one once again.

And then there are the ‘customer care’ calls, which so drip with care that they can make you quite murderous. I am at a loss each time some polite young man speaking a language that probably is English but can actually be Tulu or Kiswahili, asks me something to which I am simply incapable of formulating a reply. Against the steady barrage of unfamiliar sounds, I look here and there, bite my nails, stare at the mirror, and then say, “I’m sorry”. To that, the young man says, “Okke-have-a-goodday-ma’am”, immediately making me dizzy with guilt. He was such a nice man, perhaps a bit deficient in English, but what right did I have to be rude to him, I reason. It is like turning away that saleswoman in a synthetic sari who stands sweating at your doorstep, spectacles askew, pleading to let her show you a packet of Ariel. You have to close the door on her face, but at the same time, cannot but ask yourself whether she was actually god testing your charity.

Even in a world lorded over by the garrulous cell phone, you may evolve a telephonic code that is ‘customized’ to your needs, so to say. One of my friends, who is as deficient in conversation skills as I am, usually has a single word to say whenever I call her up. After the standard (that is, very short) question- and-answer session regarding depression or panic attacks, she says, “jaihok” (“whatever”), and sighs, to which I sigh, and after a meaningful pause, add my own “jaihok”, and there the conversation ends. This pithy exchange signifies that all’s right in our worlds in the sense that we are being our usual miserable selves. I congratulate myself on having discovered at least one means of challenging the tyranny of the cell phone. However shrilly it might make its presence felt, I can just say “whatever”, and forget it.

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