This Route is Busy
The Tribune, Chandigarh, Feb. 18, 1994.












OWNING a telephone in Chandigarh is more of a curse than a blessing. Even if you are a normal person, the tension of owning a telephone for a few months can completely wreck your brains and turn you hypertensive.

You want to book a call to pass on an urgent message. Your first few attempts to call trunk booking are bound to fail miserably. Either you hear a tape recorded message "This route is busy, call after some time", or there is no response from the other side for a long time till finally the bell automatically changes into engaged tone and you are forced to disconnect. Calling assistance is no use either. At the first few attempts the number gets disconnected automatically!

When you almost start believing that your telephone is possessed, you hear the familiar recorded message once again. Next you try calling the Supervisor. His number is perennially engaged. By now the chances are that your own number would have gone "silent". In utter frustration you bang the phone and hit the bed for a short nap before doing anything else. But sleep eludes you as you lie in the bed, being deeply wounded and furious, with no one to take out your anger on.

This is just an example. There are many other equally sickening incidents that keep occurring every now and then. And every telephone owner will vouch for such occurrences.

Take for instance the afternoon of January 9 which I still remember vividly. On that day I had rung up the Editor of local daily to enquire about a piece that I had sent for publication some time ago. As we were talking the line got disconnected suddenly. This happens frequently. So I rang up again and as I was mentioning the inadvertent disconnection, the line got disconnected once again. On that single occasion, I had to ring up four times to complete my short talk and pay four times for a single call for no fault of mine.

There are numerous other things one can mention. The telephone is "dead" for days on end. Nor is the fault removed within "two to four hours" of making a complaint as the telephone directory specifies. You have to make frequent calls to remind that your telephone is out of order. Most of the times you nave to actually go and meet the officials concerned. Even then, what you get are only assurances. Your problem remains much the same.

This reminds me of another problem — that of the false ring. The bell keeps on ringing but no one picks up the phone on the other side. Sometimes your friends complain the bell had been ringing the whole afternoon but no one had picked up the phone when you had actually been at home the whole day and ihe telephone did not ring even once. But, of course, there is no end to the wrong numbers, you receive. Besides having to answer the wrong numbers that you get by dozen a day, you have to pay for all the wrong numbers you get while trying desperately to reach someone you want to convey an urgent message.

The best part is the multi-connection phenomenon which makes you feel you are in the" midst of a teleconference rather than a private conversation. As you are intimately talking to your friend, a loved one or a business associate, there is a sudden interruption from a third party (unknown to you?) to cut down your conversation and disconnect immediately because their phone line has got all mixed up with yours. If you listen carefully, you will hear not one but many people talking in the background. After the horrifying experience of your intimate private conversation having become fully public, you wonder what is this talk about bugging the telephones!

There is another unearthly phenomenon that deserves mention here. Your telephone rings and you run to pick up the receiver. You are expectant and even a bit excited guessing who the caller could be and what he or she would say. However, all your hopes are rudely dashed to the ground as the telephone gets disconnected the instant you pick it up. Long after the call you are left hanging in suspense who the caller was and what he wanted to convey.

In all this confusion the only thing that the telephone department does efficiently is to send the bill on time. I can bet that all the subscribers are mortally scared to touch the bill as no one knows how much he would have been asked to pay (sometimes even in thousands for a handful of calls during the month). There is no correlation whatsoever between how much you are asked to pay and the number and the type of calls you have made during the period in question. In this you are totally at the mercy of the telephone department. Nor can you get the error rectified (unless you are a Minister, that is!). After a couple of times you have tried to take up the issue of overcharging with the authorities concerned you are fully convinced you have no say in the matter. The first thing that you are asked to do after you lodge a complaint is to pay the bill. Otherwise you are threatened with the disconnection of your telephone line. Later, if you persist, you will be given a meter reading supposedly of your telephone and the description of trunk calls made, if any.

If you value your time and money (and more importantly your mental peace), after a few such encounters you will immediately ask for the withdrawal of the STD facility which the department so generously offers. However, there is nothing else to do but to pay the bill after having tried everything else. A friendly neighbour recently got a bill where for all the three-minute trunk calls he had been charged at the rate of six minutes call. Having had the experience of his previous complaints, he paid the bill meekly though painfully. What is the use of complaining when you are certain to be branded a liar because an employee of the telephone department will throw the slips at your face where all the trunk calls would be recorded for six minutes. So much for complaints when the culprit becomes the judge!