Answer Me (Click on link to read on Dawn)
In Pakistan you feel lucky if you have electricity and a land line phone that actually works. This article is dedicated to those who have the wonderful everyday experience of lacking both.
It is hot, humid and everyone is going nuts. A lady moves out of the kitchen to collapse gratefully on the sofa under the fan. Just then there is a loud, startling noise and the electricity goes off; the telltale blast announces an indefinite power failure. Oh dear. Husband didn’t change UPS battery either, no power, no fan!
She frantically dials husband’s number.
“Sorry the number you have dialled is not responding, please try later.”
Wait for two minutes… Two minutes are too long, thirty seconds are enough. Dials husband’s number again.
“Sorry the number you have dialled is not listed. Please check and redial again.”
Extremely irritated now … dials again, very carefully.
“Haylo, kown hay bhai?” Unfamiliar voice.
“Assalam o Alaikum, I need to speak to Junaid sahib please.”
“Eh? Wo kon hai bhai?”
“Who is this?” Asks the wife, now at the end of her tether.
“This is Ghaffar Supariwalla”
“Oh, sorry wrong number.”
Dials again, ever so carefully, checking each number.
“Sorry the number you have dialled cannot be connected. Please dial again or contact customer services”
This is not working. She reaches for her new ‘don’t know how to use properly’ touch screen mobile.
Dials carefully, trying not to tap screen too hard. Tapped too hard, back….oh, oh! Back again. Should have saved number. Yes! Success, finally.
“Hello kiya hai, I am in a meeting.” Husband obviously not in the mood to chat.
“The transformer just blew out! I’m dying in this heat, do something!”
“Would you like me to come home and fix it?” asks husband, patronising tone obvious.
“That would be nice, it’s hot as hell.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Husband not amused.
“Well can’t you?”
“No dear, that is what linemen are for. Now I want you to think, who should you call?”
“You think you are so funny! What I mean is can you get someone to come down and fix it? When I phone all I get is ‘Thank you very much for calling, your complaint has been recorded. Your complaint number is 52678, we’ll send someone out just as soon as we can… blah blah blah!’ And no one ever comes. You phone them up, scream your head off, threaten them with your colourful language tell them you’re going to call what’s-his-name-director-friend and there you have it! The KESC truck is there in 15 minutes.”
“Well right now it’s not possible so humour me and phone them up, 118.”
“Are you going to be late for din….” Click. Call ended.
Darn, men are so inconsiderate! Dials number from landline.
“Sorry your line has been temporarily disconnected due to non-payment. If you have paid your bill please call customer service for more information.”
Now fuming she dials customer service.
“Hello this is customer care service, for service in English press 1. For service in Urdu press 2.” Bleeeep.
“For phone line press 1. For broadband Pakistan press 2. For …” Wait a minute…what the heck! This is a prepaid phone! How can it be disconnected for non-payment? Oh, never mind. Have to use complicated touch screen mobile phone, to hell with the landline. Dials 118 … no, no, not 1118! Go back, tap the screen lightly. Yes!
“Assalam O Alaikum respected customers; electricity is a precious resource for all of us. Let us preserve it so we can all benefit from its use. You can do this by turning off fans when not in use, switch off all lights during the day. Remove mobile chargers from the socket when recharging is complete. Don’t waste water, and in this way avoid unnecessary use of motor to fill up water tanks. Encourage your children to be energy wise and turn off all electrical appliances when not in use.
Encourage your neighbours to be active in their energy management. You can also ask your in-laws, your best friends, your children’s best friends and their relatives as well as the people you meet on the street to use electricity wisely. In this way, with your cooperation, we can spread the message to the whole city. Bijli bachayay apne liyay, quom ki liyay. Shukria. An operator will be with you shortly. Thank you for waiting.”
Waiting … still waiting… sickening piano music in background.
“Hello KESC complaint centre.”
“Oh thank God! I thought no one would ever answer, the transformer outside my house just blew up and…”
“Sorry Ma’am hold on for just one minute.”
“Oh wait I …” More piano music. Click . Another click, hope is reborn.
“Assalam O Alaikum. Please wait for an operator to attend your call, or dial 1 if you don’t feel like waiting. Dial 2 if you want service in Urdu. Dial 3 if you want to report electricity theft. Dial 4 if you are not sure why you called. Dial 5 for the latest fashion updates. Dial 6 for …”
Presses 1, can’t wait any longer this is ridiculous.
“Thank you for calling; when you are ready to wait please call back.”
Click. End of call.
Slaps forehead. Hard. Dials again…
“Sorry you do not have sufficient balance to make this call.”
I just went through some of your writings Khaula
.they’re really great
Thanks Ayesha, I hope you enjoy the copy of the novel I sent as well.