Why Cant We Ever Talk About Something Else

Updated: Jan 28 2003, 05:30am hrs
Mobiles. Mobiles. Mobiles. Its all you ever seem to hear. Its certainly all I ever seem to hear. And its all I seem to talk about, isnt it, at least in this column. You cant get away from those cellphone regulatory battles. They are on the television before you go to sleep; the latest round jumps at you from the papers when you wake up. And of course when youre driving, the phone just has to ring. Are you driving is a question that seems to come more easily to people today than How are you

I thought of writing a column without mentioning the word cellphone or mobile. But I dont think I can do it. Since Im doomed to talking about our new, best friends companions, let me at least step back from the technology and people who run them to what we do with our mobiles.

You cant escape Indias cell mania wherever you go. In movie theatres people think nothing of answering their phones. Im watching a movie yaar, the lout next to you will say and then proceeding to talk loud and long. My wife cannot tolerate such behaviour and she will say so instantly in tones as loud as the louts phone. Do you mind talking outside Were trying to watch a #$&*% movie! Not being an impatient man at most times, I slide into the upholstery, but secretly of course Im proud of the little woman. The cell menace can only be fought with fire.

Ive watched all manner of cellphone intrusions. Theres my estate agent, whos fine-tuned the art of pressing answer while driving his scooter and shoving the phone into his helmet, leaving both hands free for the serious business of weaving maniacally through Delhis homicidal traffic.

Theres the guy at my swimming pool, who takes a break from endless laps only when an attendant scurries poolside with his jangling mobile. I thought the disease could not be more pronounced than in Delhi, a city where loutishness is next to godliness.

But I find Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai are no exceptions. They may have been cities once known for courtesy, maybe they still are, but clearly not when it comes to mobiles.

At the Breach Candy Swimming Bath Trust (otherwise known as Breach Candy Club), where the traditionally rich and the expat community come to hang out, there are boards threatening you with mutilation oh, alright, maybe just a stern look if your phone should ring. But even in this bastion of calm, you cant help notice the diamond trader in the corner of the sea-front balcony, whispering into his cellphone.

Theres no rest on the ground or in the air. Saar! Office ge barla saar Sir, shall I come to the office The tubby mans voice carried throughout the aircraft just as soon as it had touched down at Bangalore. The worst thing was, no one really glared at him. I tried, but in his winning Bangalore way, he beamed back. I soon realised why no one cared: mobiles were going off all around. Never mind that government of India regulations prohibit the use of mobile phones inside the aircraft because they interfere with navigation. If we do crash, theres so much else to blame in India.

Ive even heard a mobile phone go off in an operation theatre. I was watching an open heart surgery: the surgeon was fiddling around in a coronary artery, carefully cutting and slicing his way through, when his phone rang! I started. The surgeon wasnt the least bit fazed. I thought he might even answer it, but thankfully he asked the scrub nurse to get it out of his pocket and keep it aside.

And how often has it happened that just when you glare at the cell-lout, you turn instantly sheepish from the beep-beep of your own phone the one you forgot to turn to silent.

(The author can be contacted at samar@expressindia.com)