It’s curious the way in which things settle down, how issues that once appeared vexing gradually smooth out, or even become a pleasure. For instance, when I first moved to Delhi I found the lack of supermarkets an utter chore. Now I’ve learned to take pleasure from visiting the half-dozen various shops required to gather up the ingredients for dinner, and smile when I can wander on to the street outside our apartment and buy vegetables from a man pushing them on a cart.
Other things have gone in reverse. Three years ago, I was delighted to discover how simple and quick it was to buy a mobile phone, how cheap the calls were and how good the coverage was even in the most remote parts of the country. But gradually, mobile phones, or more precisely, the relationship Indians have with their phones, have led me to despair. Let me explain.
Indians love their phones, and lots has been written about the positive impact they have had on many lives. We all know Keralan fishermen are now able to discover where they are likely to get the best price for their fish before they come ashore, and how migrant workers drawn to the large cities are able to maintain easy contact with their families back in the village.
Phone towers fill the landscape, phone ownership has now passed 750 million. But what one hears less about is the primacy given to these phones and the way in which they have started to dominate people’s lives.
Quietly, they have shifted from being a tool of enablement to a device of enslavement. One notices this invarious ways; the manner in which people will continue to hold phone conversations even while riding a motorbike, cycling or driving a car; theway in which people – officials, politicians and others – will break off during a conversation to answer their ringing phone even when they don’t know who is calling; ring tones have increasingly become louder, almost like a car horn.
My biggest gripe concerns phones in cinemas. I can’t remember the number of films that have been repeatedly disturbed. A few years back, stern words were exchanged with several people as the suspenseful culmination of the FBI movie Breach was repeatedly interrupted as they answered various calls.
More recently, the excruciating yet gripping 127 Hours, was similarly ruined by someone sitting at the front, who not only answered his phone, but then loudly explained to the caller that he could not speak for too long as he was in the cinema. He then told him to call back later and dictated an alternative number for his friend to reach him on. He then repeated it, to make sure the friend got the digits down correctly.
In fact, I can then think of just one film I have seen in India that was not spoiled by such hare-brained antics, Julie & Julia. Perhaps people were too charmed by the recipes.
This is not supposed to be a rant about Indians, or more accurately, the people of Delhi. I don’t think they are any more or less thoughtful than people anywhere else. But I am certain they are obsessed by their phones, and I don’t think it’s healthy.
You’re hired: message of hope behind bars
Delhi’s Tihar Jail is a forward-thinking place. Over the years, officials there have introduced many ground-breaking initiatives that have shown a compassionate and thoughtful approach to the issue of incarceration.
Inmates have been taught photography, painting, yoga and music. They have even organised their own version of The X Factor and recently former national cricketers visited to give the prison’s team some advice.
This week saw another such undertaking. A series of major companies, including Vedanta Enterprises, Agarwal Packers and JRA and Associates, were invited to the prison to hold recruitment interviews with inmates, whose sentences are likely to expire within the next six months.
A total of 14 prisoners were offered jobs. Neeraj Kumar, the prison’s director general explained: “We were giving inmates vocational and educational training but without the assurance of a job, all of that is wasted.”
Among those who succeeded in landing a job offer was 40-year-old Sandeep Bhatnagar, who has been held in the jail since 2006, while awaiting trial for his alleged role in a bank robbery. “This is not just an appointment letter,” he declared. “It is an assurance of a rehabilitated life in society which would have otherwise maybe shunned me. I can now hope for a speedy acquittal by sending this letter to the court to convince them to acquit me soon. I can now assure my wife and children of a decent life.”
Cricket shows corporate sponsors to best seats
There’s an outcry over the sale and distribution of tickets for the Cricket World Cup, taking place in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Indians adore cricket (almost as much as their phones) but the International Cricket Council has set aside a whacking 40 per cent of seats for sponsors.
Last week, there were ugly scenes when police in Bangalore used bamboo truncheons to beat fans, angry that tickets were not available for last night’s match against England even though they had queued over night.
Many fans have already likened the situation to the fiasco surrounding the Commonwealth Games. On that occasion, tickets were often said to be sold out even when it would later emerge the stadiums were half empty.