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Telephone manners

By Nickunj Malik - May 14,2014 - Last updated at May 14,2014

It’s been a crazy day today. All I have done, since morning, is talk to answering machines. Yes, the same ones that follow, the ten or twelve ringing sounds when you are making a call. On the phone, that is. 

Talking on the telephone is the easiest thing in the world these days. Every Tom, Dick and Harry as well as their entire tribe of sisters, has a mobile. From florists, cobblers, bakers and cabbies to barbers, grocers, housewives and even 10-year-old kids, an entire spectrum of humanity carries a cellphone with them wherever they go. 

But we all know that in reality, this is all balderdash. Owning a phone is very different from getting to speak to the, well, owner of the phone. In most of the cases, all one gets to do is, leave messages on the answering machine. 

Soon after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it made its appearance in the black and white films of the time. “Dial M for Murder” for instance, almost had a ringing telephone as its main protagonist. Subsequent movies, especially in the Indian subcontinent had actors sing entire songs to their beloveds, over the handset.  

Making and receiving trunk calls was a laborious process. The sound, over the wires also would not be clear, and we had to shout in an unnaturally loud voice, to get ourselves heard. Also, the telephone manners that were drilled upon us in early childhood would invariably come into play. 

So, however bad the connection, we had to first greet each other. Then we had to ask about one another’s health, our family’s welfare, inquire about the weather, and only then get down to the point of the call. Sometimes, while bantering about the inconsequential things, the line would get disconnected and the main plot would be lost. 

We had to go back to placing the call again and, once connected, go through the pleasantries, one more time. In fact, the inquisitive operators, who would be listening in, would sever the link if they felt that the social niceties were not being adhered to.

But in all this, the greatest allure was in the interaction itself. We would, argue, implore, entreat and quarrel with the operators but at least they were human and not the mechanical recordings of the answering machines. 

Personally, I cannot understand what kind of people leave messages on the answering machines. If truth is told, I do not even understand the instructions that the robotic voice commands me to do. The alien accents also bother me. The false gaiety and cheerfulness that it exudes, sets my teeth on edge too. 

Moreover, by the time I frame a reply in my head and get down to actually articulating it, the beeps start beeping rudely at me. 

This morning I called up an airlines office. A nasal mechanised voice picked up. She told me to press certain numbers. I bungled up immediately. Fuming furiously, I reached the “leave a message” stage in our conversation, before hanging up.  

One hour later my phone rang. 

“How can we solve your problem?” requested a robotic voice.

“Answering machines can make calls too?” I asked.

“You left a message today,” she said. 

 “No, I didn’t,” I clarified. 

“I can play the recording for you,” she insisted.

“Really? What did I say,” I was curious. 

“Bloody hell! These idiotic scoundrels…” she started reciting.

“Ok ok let’s get to the point,” I cut in.

Scary robots!

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