The importance of the ‘local’ call

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 19 Jan 2023, 7:40 PM

A US-based friend of mine who is visiting India after a three-year Covid-induced hiatus has been going crazy posting photos on Facebook. Shopping expeditions, feasting trails, family reunions, friends’ get-togethers and even museum visits have all been turned into photo albums, gaining a lot of traction on her page. So, a couple of days ago, she posted 11 photos of her outing to the Indian Museum in Calcutta, along with comments on how she was visiting it for the first time since she was in school — more than three decades ago.

And then, on the same thread, somebody — a Facebook friend of hers — asked her how long she’s in town for, and if it’s possible to meet. To this, my friend responded she only has a few days left for her trip to get over, too little time, too many things to do, so it probably won’t be possible to meet.

“Send me a local number,” her friend wrote. “Let’s at least talk.”

“Sure,” my friend offered, “check your inbox.”

Now, this is something that’s mystified me. When you are in town and you are not able to meet certain people, why do you need to call from a local number? Because, these days, you can call from anywhere, anytime, most times free of cost… telephoning boundaries have well and truly been busted. It’s not like in the (earlier) non-tech age when most wouldn’t want to pay for trunk calls or ISD calls, unless it was frightfully important. Just pick up the phone and dial in a WhatsApp call… or a FaceTime one… or a Messenger one… every damn thing has a ‘free’ calling facility. Why this big deal about speaking to someone on the phone just because you are in the same city?

My mother insisted I do it too, whenever I visited Calcutta — from Dubai, or, before that, from Delhi. A template had been set and would be repeated every time. No sooner had I unpacked, and handed out gifts to expectant family members, she sidled up to me with a piece of paper and said, “Don’t get angry, but here’s a list of names [and numbers] you need to speak with; they all know you will be in town on a very short trip and won’t be able to meet them in person, but they are expecting a call from you… And use the landline, landline to landline is way cheaper…”

“Listen, if it means so much for you that I call these people occasionally, I’ll do it — regularly — from outstation,” I started to say.

“No way,” her voice went all shrill. “It’s not the same thing, don’t you see? You are here, in the same city, it makes a world of difference.”

“HOW? It’s not that I am sitting face to face with them across a table!”

“Ufffff, just stop arguing, and work the phone, I insist.”

“Like right now?” I sputtered.

“No, no,” she hastened to add, “freshen up, have something to eat and then get down to it.”

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