Nostalgia in a Yellow Booth

Today I encountered an experience that was truly remarkable and has got me thinking ever since. What you ask? Well it was nothing short of a mild panic attack, when, on the way to a super important meeting, I realised my phone had switched off. Yes, I know what you are thinking- you know exactly what that panic feels like. Well, but that wasn’t the end of the story. I had my laptop with me, which incidentally, was also dysfunctional and I had no way to charge my phone on the way. So basically I had no way of communicating with anyone at all.
And that got me thinking. What did people do before all communication was channelled through smartphones? How did people plan meetings, find addresses, leave messages and so many other things that we get done at the touch of a screen?
As I was thinking these thoughts in my panic state, I saw something that was going to leave me full of nostalgia. I was in the city area (Tilak Road to be precise) and through the cacophony of horns, vendors hawking their goods and many other distractions; I saw a sign that read ‘STD.ISD.PCO’. Et Voila! I had found my saviour for the day!
As I walked up to the PCO phone booth, I saw the owner- an elderly man, smiling at me with a knowing smile. The moment I went up to him, he asked me in a bemused tone, “Phone banda padla na? (Your phone has switched off eh?) I nodded, explained my predicament and made the necessary calls from the PCO box.
Oh what joy it was to drop in a coin in that phone box, hear a dial tone and be fast enough to convey my message over the phone before the 1 minute time limit got over! I was hooked. And that is when I decided to hang back and talk to the owner a little more about this nostalgia shop he operated in this day.
“Now a days people come here only when their phone is off, or sometimes when they don’t have balance on their phones. But I keep this facility available because I know it helps people in a big way when there is no other way to communicate. But the funny thing I have observed is that, even if there is a phone available to people, they do not remember phone numbers anymore!” stated Ramesh Surve, owner of the only phone booth in the nearby area.
Now that I was on this quest to find the long lost phone booths in the city, I also happened to remember one at the Swargate Bus stand. This particular phone booth is different though. Unlike the others who look dilapidated and deserted, this one has an aura of exclusivity. Here people still needed the phone box and used it quite regularly. Gajanan Gaikwad, owner of the shop explained “People who come from out of Pune don’t always have a mobile phone. So my shop is always in need. But now-a-days I also keep a spare charger for smart phones so that people can charge their phones in case of emergency and then find the number that they want to call.”
Funny how certain technology fades into oblivion and is remembered only in times of need. The ‘Yellow Revolution’ of phone booths in India, the brainchild of telecom technocrat Sam Pitroda,is now a passing memory in our minds. It may still be thriving outside of cities, but for the most of us, Phone booths are a nostalgic phenomenon more than anything else.
Do you know of any PCO boxes in the city that are still functioning? We urge you to go have a small conversation with the owner and have your own trip down memory lane!
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