Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Of numbers and rambles and memories

There are two sets of numbers in my mind. 2937 and 2560977. They're both conduits to the same place. An old, aging house in small-town India. When I think of the word 'phone' an image similar to this black, dial-up version comes to mind. None of the fancy-schamncy trimline, light plastic concoctions with touchpads and speed dials. This was a phone with heft that made me reflect that what made me hear voices from thousands of miles away was a testimony to the ingenuity of humankind. That it was a miracle.

2937 was changed to 2560977 a few years ago. I try to remember when but I can't. So it remains; a few years ago. This is how we lose links in the chains of our memories. Approximations that blur out vibrancy so that the past exists in a colorwashed muted palette.

2937 was my phone number while I was growing up. Four digits. Nothing more. Simple. This was before the digital exchange in my small town. I used to be shocked at the long numbers of people in Delhi and Bombay, and even more so by the exotic numbers of Canadian and American relatives. And when I lived in smaller towns, sometimes you picked up the phone and asked the operator to connection you to some one or two or three digit phone number and I recall being proud of our four digits. No need for an operator. We were more advanced. So we were, in a no-mans land between a metropolis and a very small-town. We were a city, a small city. 2937 is a number I'll remember forever.

Life and living is like a fist-full of dry, powdery dust. One puff from a breath and it's gone, scattering in all directions, being absorbed into the environment, until it can no longer be distinguished.

But numbers are precise. I can think of 2937 and think of home. Home at 29 Kanpur Road. Always home, no matter where I go, and where I live. And what of this new number, this imposter under which 2937 still dwells? I forget it sometimes. I needed to look it up even when I called every weekend. But 2937 remains with me. But it no longer exists.

I have no other number to call so I dial the imposter. Impulses rush forward from my phone under all those thousands of miles of cables and wires and fiber-optics. Technology that shrinks the world, brings us closer together.

The strident ring of an Indian phone, none of those refined buzzing or muffled rings. This is a ring that demands attention, that compels a person to come running from the back verandah, to abandon guests in the drawing room, to come running from where a mighty tree once stood and now there is nothing.

It rings. And rings. No one picks up. There is no click, no hello. It rings. It will never be picked up. 2937 or 2560977, it doesn't matter. There's no one there. The house is there but not the home. The line disconnects and a voice tells me to check the number and dial again. There will never be anyone home again.


Trishna said...

Amazing piece of writing this is... Too beautifully captured all the nuances of human emotions through the preciseness of numbers...


Keep writing!

Jawahara said...

Thanks trishna...and welcome.

dipali said...

Beautifully evocative. And heartbreaking.

Shuchi Grover said...

I will remember 3011 and 2745 forever (home and mom-dad's office). And Darbhanga Colony - where Jyoti lived - used 5-digit numbers! Hers was 50532...I don't think I've consciously thought of her number in 25-30 years. Your beautiful, evocative (borrowing from above :)) piece brings it all rushing back!