ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Much before the cell phone, the ubiquitous black rotary dial telephone sparked the imaginations of children in 1980s’ India.


Our bogie was being shunted from the Coromandel Express to the Bangalore Mail. Except for those in this one wagon, all the other passengers’ journeys terminated here at Madras. Seeing that we had not moved for over three hours now, I got restless and asked mama for our black telephone so I could call Nani and ask her to send some gulab jamuns here. “If our train never starts, we’ll never get to Bangalore tomorrow,” I protested, “and Pinkoo will eat all of them.” A Marwari lady, travelling with her little daughter, was in the adjacent seat.
Seeing mama in a bit of a quandary, she fished out some paper soap to amuse me. I had never seen anything like it before. “If your fingertips are not clean when you dial Nani’s number, she won’t be able to hear you,” she said to me and smiled gently. I used up nearly half her pack at the wash basin near the door. By then, the bogie had been appended to the new train and we were moving. The sight of the Campa-Cola guy made me forget the gulab jamuns.

When our black rotary dial telephone had entered my life, it made me believe in magic. With it, I could hear the voices of uncles and aunts who lived on maps on the other side of the spinning globe in our living room. All I needed to reach out to someone was a magic code—a five-digit number. So, I thought nothing of assuming that the black box was capable of more. That I could see the people I spoke to if I closed my eyes and concentrated. And that I could send letters to them by slipping them under the telephone. And that I could ask for it on a train journey, and it’d be there for me to dial a number on.

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Updated On : 28th Nov, 2021
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