- Anjuly Mathai
Story Dated: Friday, September 7, 2012 17:3 hrs IST
Finding that wretched love letter you wrote a crush in sixth grade Valentine’s Day is awkward. Watching a sex scene on television with your parents is awkward. Seeing an old photograph of yourself when you thought you looked ravishing and now, with the recalibrated perspective of time, you realize you look like a velvet-upholstered version of Watson and Crick’s DNA model is awkward. All three have happened to me but you know what I find more awkward? Phone conversations.
In my opinion, chatting on the phone is an inherent talent much like rhythmic gymnastics or pole vaulting. To some it comes naturally. My mother conducts hour-long post-breakfast phone conversations with her sisters every day, rehashing old gossip, dissecting new ones. Listening to my roommate on the phone with her friends is like watching the flow of the River Ganges: gushing in smooth, powerful waves. Listening to mine, on the other hand, is like watching a bad Schwarzenegger film: bleak silences punctured by staccato bursts of action. ‘Chatting for fun’ on the phone is a concept beyond my limited powers of comprehension. I usually adhere to a strict ‘state your purpose and hang up’ policy.
My problem is compounded by two factors:
1)My brain is not hardwired with a voice recognition software. Simply put, it means that when I get calls from unknown numbers I am pathetic at recognising the voice on the other end of the line. It could be my boss or my best friend of twenty years. Confessing ignorance might be at best an insult and at worst a fatal mistake. Hence, how do you decide the degree of familiarity your reply should contain? ‘How positively delightful to hear from you after so long’ might be a tad over enthusiastic when the caller is a PR ringing to invite you to a press junket.
2)I’m afflicted with an undocumented illness called ‘telephonic deafness’. When I’m on the phone, my ears fill with static (real or imagined) thereby rendering the speaker inaudible. During interminable phone conversations, I spend half the time asking the caller to repeat himself and the other half replying to what, in an intelligent guessing game, I perceive to be what he might have asked me.
I try to avoid phone conversations as far as possible. Besides the ‘strictly business’ phone calls, the only ones I make are birthday calls and, in most cases, they’re akin to being trapped in a Nazi torture chamber. After ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘What plans for the day?’ I hit a rock wall that I make half-hearted attempts to climb with some tepid hemming and hawing, until the birthday boy or girl puts us both out of our misery with the pretext of a call waiting.
Ending a phone conversation is something else that befuddles me. Phone etiquette dictates that the person who makes the call should be the one to end it. When is the right time to do it? How do you do it without invoking the charge of abruptness? How to know when you’re drained of conversation if you didn’t have any in the first place?
I’ve recently started practising my ‘call centre’ voice, mostly due to an advertisement I saw a while ago. A man receives a call from an unwelcome party and replies in a stiff, mechanical voice, ‘The person you’re trying to reach is currently on another call. Please try again later.’