May 1, 2013
Not long ago setting up a STD booth was quite a money-spinning business proposition in the country as a whole. One could find STD booths in every nook and corner of the city. They were so omnipresent one could identify a STD booth even form a distance. Shopkeepers used to keep a coin telephone box and sometimes those who had a house on the roadside with an innovative streak of mind even perched a coin telephone box on their compound gates so that passersby in need could use the coin box phone. Certain kind of differently abled people were allotted public telephone booths in order to make them independent, which was a part of government scheme. Banks used to give loans to set up STD booths. As a result many differently abled people were able to take care of their family and live a life of dignity by earning their daily bread.
Renuka Raj, who runs a newspaper stall in Bendoor says five years back he used to have an average business of Rs. 1000 every day and it used be between Rs. 2000 to Rs. 3000 on weekends. The original cost of a phone was 40 paise and we used to earn almost 60 paise in every rupee. “Most people used to come to our booth to make calls to gulf countries on weekends as the government had given a special concession rate of 50 per cent on weekends. Evening 7 to 9 pm used to be the peak hour and people used to wait in queues for making a call”, recalls Renuka Raj. With business plummeting drastically Renuka Raj has transformed his STD booth into a storeroom for keeping old magazines and newspapers as it was not making a business sense for him to keep the booth operationall. “I had spent Rs. 40,000/- for the STD booth and I could almost recover my investment”, Renuka Raj recalls with a big sigh of relief.
The situation has changed noticeably in the last five years following the mobile phone revolution. Mobile sets have become affordable to the poorest of the poor and telephone companies provide networks easily and at affordable rates. Naturally the importance of STD booths and coin box telephones decreased considerably because everyone has a mobile set. Slowly but steadily the ubiquitous red-yellow STD booths overrun with graffiti, funny drawings and sticky with secretions are disappearing. Even the typical yellow coin boxes have begun to vanish day by day. Though a few STD booths are surviving some of them don’t actually work and may soon become extinct.
Ronald Machado had a STD booth and coin box phone in his shop near Colaco hospital and the box used to have a collection of more than 100 coins on an average every day. Now his STD booth has become Xerox shop and he also does recharging of mobile currency of various telephone companies. But Colaco has still maintained the coin box particularly to help poor people coming to the hospital. The one advantage Ronald says that there was no shortage of one rupee coins when coin box phone was much in use. But Ronald argues that coin box phones often get jammed and calls for repair often which is quit irksome.
These days, pay phones are used by those mobile/cellular phone users in case their mobiles get stolen, become unusable or for other emergency cases. In the near future these coin booths may completely disappear.
Coin box phone was quite useful for primary and high school students who made the maximum use of it. Usually primary and high schools don’t allow students to carry mobiles and children had to rely on coin booths to communicate with the parents from school coin box when in need. Dayananda Bhat who has a kirana stores in Bikarnakatte had set up a coin box in his shop until recently. He says he used to get on an average Rs. 400 to 500 earlier but the collection has dropped to less than Rs. 100/-. “Getting the coin box repaired is a big headache and every time we have to shell out Rs. 100 or 50 to get it repaired. But when the coin box was there, we did nto have shortage of one rupee coins”, Bhat points out.
Homemaker Meenakshi of Kulshekar laments “whenever my son who is son studying in 10th is late from school, and wants to make an urgent call home after getting down from the bus asking me to pick him up he can’t get a coin box nearby these days. So he has he has to come walking the 2 km distance to our home wasting precious time”.
Today coin phone or pay phones have disappeared and the few that are still existing stand as a symbol of the era gone by.
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