Our first telephone line
Obtaining a telephone was probably one of the most difficult things we attempted in the beginning.
A telephone connection was a very prestigious status symbol and very valuable. The application process was not only tedious with a waiting period of years but it also involved nominating someone you would like to bequeath your line to in the event of your demise as you would the family jewels. As we were to be totally dependent on faxing and telephoning we were relieved to hear our landlord had applied for a line some years before his migration to Canada and Redu, our neighbor and his brother-in-law, was determined to shake things up at the exchange and track down the application. He returned triumphant: apparently the number had been issued and the telephone already installed – but where? Redu insisted they find it immediately as this was theft on the grandest of scales.
Later that same day a grinning lineman appeared at our door a roll of cable under his arm and a still warm clammy handset.
The phone connection had been traced to another neighbour in the village who had taken the connection illegally and by ‘eck did she pay for it.
She was on the phone, presumably eating chapattis judging by the crumbs in the mouthpiece, when the telephone hit squad raided, snipped the chord in two, and physically removed her instrument.
Almost immediately it was connected it started ringing. We had people enquiring about when their “stitching” would be ready all very anxious for their Christmas outfits, and later that evening a perplexed relative from Canada called who just couldn’t work out why a foreigner was at his Aunties place in Goa denying all knowledge of her and seemingly refusing to get her on the line!!
Once we had the phone we thought life was complete but we were wrong. With trepidation each morning we would lift the handset and more often than not it would be dead. We quickly learned that tracking down the area lineman produced faster results than reporting it to the exchange so we often found ourselves getting the scooter out and scouring the area. He could usually be found up a pole somewhere in the village or if not in one of the many “feni bars” and the lure of a bottle of ice cold beer and Rs50 normally got him there that day.
Despite our resolve to not get sucked in to the bribery and baksheesh system so rife in India we found ourselves having to pay a bribe sometimes a couple of times a week just to keep in contact with the rest of the world.
It was over a cup of tea one morning with our neighbour, Joe Lobo, that the light began to dawn. Joe’s phone last went out of order months ago – why is ours out of order so much. Ping! it’s a nice little earner a beer and Rs200 a couple of times a week – thank you.
We were damn sure paying him to do his job badly was not the way this should work. A meeting was set up. And it was explained that whenever we met it was always stressful, with our angry faces and lots of shouting loudly all the time. To make this go away all he had to do was give us his best assurance that our phone would never go out of order again then once a month we would be able to sit and chat, stress free, and have some beers and he could collect Rs250 as a thank you. From that day on we became friends and once a month as promised we always sat on the balcao and passed the time of day over some beers.
The line never went off. Win win.
One day as I was driving home I was over taken by a push bike flying like the wind and when I turned the corner a very breathless and red faced linesman was shimmying up the pole outside our house. Apparently a lorry had reversed into our drive and snagged our phone line and he was trying to beat me home to repair it before we knew anything about it. Now that’s more like it, that’s what you call good service indeed.