I acquired my first mobile phone in the mid-1990s, which I recently heard a kid refer to, quite seriously, as “the olden days”. I suppose it was a dull and silly time; back then we may not have had to walk three kilometres to school in the dark after milking the cows, as my grandparents had to in the days right after the Big Bang, but we did have to dial up 7,286 times before finally getting connected to the VSNL government server, which disconnected immediately thereafter. My coolest friend at the time had a pager, though he doesn’t like to talk about that.
Anyway, back then I lived alone in Delhi and regularly drove around alone at night, and my parents worried about me, so on one of their visits home from Malaysia they brought me a cell phone. I’m not a gadget freak but I fell in love with it at first sight. It was a bright yellow little flip-open Sony Ericsson with a strip of screen that scrolled left to right and accommodated three words of text at a time, and I thought it was the cutest, cleverest thing I’d ever seen. Since it was intended primarily for emergency use I got a pre-paid connection, but it swiftly became an indispensable convenience.
Of course, it was a stone-age tool compared to my present phone, that technological marvel called the Nokia 2210 which, over and above cutting-edge dialling facilities like buttons, also has predictive text. It makes my life much easier, and has greatly improved the strength and agility of my thumbs. Also, I can reach people, and people can reach me, at any time, even when I’m driving.
Yesterday I was pulled over by a traffic policeman for doing just that. “Licence,” he said, in pithy policing prose. I looked in my bag. “I’ve left my wallet at home,” I said truthfully. “Registration,” he said. “That’s also in my wallet,” I said, making a mental note to tear out my own fingernails with a set of pliers later that evening. “Speak to sir,” he said, pointing to a senior colleague.
The senior was fighting with a lady with dark film on her car windows, whose rather wild arguments against the Rs 600 fine included the fact that she had two children (to which he responded that he had two as well, both with B.Ed degrees). When he was done with her I recapped my thoroughly guilty situation for him.
“Get someone to bring your wallet,” he said. I told him that my husband was playing squash and wouldn’t answer his phone for another half hour, and even when he did, he’d take a while to get here because his own car was in the service station—all of which was true, but sounded made up. You’ll have to wait, he said. Okay, I said. He looked startled and said, ‘You can sit in my chair.’ I declined. Half an hour went by. I remembered I had my chequebook in the car but they said a cheque wouldn’t do; anyway, I didn’t have my licence, so they would impound my car. I asked where and how. “You’ll have to take a receipt, and collect the car tomorrow from the court in Saket,” he said. All my offences would cost me Rs 4,000, and a lot of time.
Right, I said, deeply resigned and making a mental note to tear out my toenails as well, no point my hanging around then, I’ll take an auto home and collect the car tomorrow. Do you really have no money? they asked, and fell to whispering and conferring amongst themselves. “I’m letting you off,” said the elder one abruptly. “But please don’t talk on your mobile phone while driving.”