SRINAGAR: The government’s obstacles to communication among Kashmiris have only brought them closer. People who have BSNL phone connections are generously lending their phones to neighbours and even strangers, and people who have BSNL landline phones in their homes are seeing a steady stream of visitors arriving at their door every day.
Mohammad Yousuf of Lal Bazar in Srinagar receives “scores” of people every day at his home. “Since early morning people start coming to my house to make calls from my landline connection,” the 71-year-old Yousuf said.
Yousuf said that he had acquired a landline phone at his home in the early ’70s, when such phones were introduced in Kashmir. “I don’t remember the exact date, but it must have been in the early seventies. Phone numbers used to have only 5 digits back then,” he recalled. He said that in the entire Lal Bazar area there are only three landline connections.
Yousuf said that the current rush of people at his home reminds him of the days when there were few means of communication. “People would come to our house to make calls or wait for calls. Those who had loved ones living outside Kashmir were the most frequent visitors,” Yousuf said.
He recalled that people would usually come to his house late in the evening as call rates were less after 10pm in those days. “It was hectic. One had to call a person and then inform him that he had had a call from a certain person. People, mostly our neighbours, would come to our house after 10pm, which was a time when we had already had our dinner,” he said.
Yousuf said that letting people use his phone was his “duty to serve people in whatever way”.
“It was my duty back then and it is my duty now. Even if it means higher telephone bills,” he said with a grin. “Nothing is permanent. This period of harsh times will also not stay long. I will continue to help people communicate with their loved ones as long as I am alive,” he gallantly said.
Adil Ali, a student who lives in downtown Srinagar, said that because of the landline phone at his home, his house had turned into a public booth.
Adil said that people of all ages visit his home to ask if they can use his phone. “There is no age or gender discrimination here. Old men, women, all call their children from my phone,” he said.
Admitting that this act of “generousness” has its own hardships, Adil said that he nevertheless derives great satisfaction from it. “Sometimes people come to my home as early as 6 in the morning. I have to wake up and fetch them the phone. But it is the feeling of helping my own people that keeps me going, even when the bill comes to more than 2000 rupees,” he said.
“There is no better feeling than seeing a mother’s smile after she has spoken to her son,” he said.
Adil made a special mention of youngsters who are in “relationship”. He called them “love birds”.
“They come to me like thirsty crows that have not drunk water for days,” he said. “These love birds are the reason for the high phone bills. They take my phone and then run away with it,” he said with a smile. He holds no grudges against them, he said. “Everything is fair in love and war.”
Abdul Majeed, a painter by profession, is currently at SKIMS hospital attending to his brother. He is another soul who is quite generous with his phone. He lends his phone to almost everyone in the hospital.
“I understand from their expressions that they are in need of a phone,” Majeed said. “I walk up to them and ask, Phone chuwa zaroorat? (Do you require a phone?) Most of the time the reply is in the affirmative,” he said.
Majeed said that some 200 people must have used his phone since the services were suspended before Eid.
“Seeing the grief-stricken attendants of injured people breaks my heart. I run towards them and request them to make a call from my phone,” the painter said.