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Mobile phones and Eid greetings

August 23, 2012


KARACHI: It was one of the strangest chaand raats that Karachiites have experienced in recent times. For whatever help it extended to the government it did prove a very important theory: in the second decade of the 21st century, one could (barely) do without technology. There is a primitive man in all of us and he will come out in our support whenever we cry for help.

The suspension of the mobile phone service on Aug 19 created a bit of panic across the city. The panic, after knowing that it was shutdown in a few major cities, gave way to a reasonable understanding of the situation at hand (terrorist attacks etc). But let’s face it, today mobile phones are no more a luxury; they have become a necessity of sorts. From a chief executive officer of a multinational company to a vegetable vendor, no one can do without it (the only difference being the former carries a blackberry whereas the latter can make-do with a simple, no memory-card set). Some households have stopped depending on landlines, for it is easier to manage the pre- or post-paid billing for cellphones. Therefore, all kinds of communication now happen via these slick little palm devices. Not on Aug 19, though.

At a known Clifton market a thirty-something man, who came across as an affluent person because he was wearing a pair of three-quarters trousers and a fancy t-shirt, looked utterly flummoxed when he tried to call his wife and found that the phone had gone kaput. His ultra modern phone was shining like a star, but only from the outside. It turned out his wife had asked him to pick up some clothes that she had ordered her tailor to prepare for Eid and the hubby forgot to bring the receipt. The only way he could save time was to call her up and ask what color and fabric were her clothes. Nothing doing. The phone wasn’t working.

This was on the lighter side, perhaps. There were serious issues too. After Eid prayers a bunch of young men in a Gulistan-i-Jauhar neighbourhood were discussing a story. According to them, on Sunday evening a teenager wanted to get in touch with his uncle who had fallen terribly ill and was supposed to be taken to hospital. The uncle didn’t have a landline so the only way to contact him was through his cellphone. Since he couldn’t get through to the old man, he had to rush to his place, but by the time he reached there, thankfully, someone had already taken him to the nearby hospital.

It was about 10am on Eid day (Aug 20) that the mobile phone service began to restore, locality by locality. And this is when people (the saner lot) realized what a boon it was to receive and send no calls and no messages. Every minute, cell phones buzzed or rang or vibrated indicating ‘one message received’. There were literally hundreds of ‘Eid Mubarak’, ‘may this Eid bring happiness to you and your family’ (as if the last Eid brought doom and gloom) messages in bad English and illegible Urdu sent by people one has never even heard of. At that moment, the silent mode of the phone doesn’t help either because the mobile constantly trembles and shivers like a man who is about to die.

Isn’t it some kind of infringement on one’s privacy, like a crank or deliberate ‘wrong-number’ call? Notes of greeting from friends and family are understandable and should be appreciated.

But getting inundated with them because of people (and companies) one has nothing to do is irritating. Perhaps the government wanted to keep both the terrorists and random message-senders at bay. If that’s the case, the shutdown could, nay should, have been stretched to three days.