The mobile phone came to India in 1995 and I met it immediately. My son’s paediatrician was a pioneer; he carried a black Motorola some nine inches long with a stubby antenna. He was a kindly man, good at dealing with anxious parents at inconvenient hours, but he didn’t like us calling his mobile phone. “Eight rupees a minute—incoming!” he said to us sternly, after we had called him about strep throat. Doctors were India’s cellphone vanguard; for them it was a morphed-up pager. That’s how Dr Lall wanted us to use it; he was an early advocate of the ‘missed’ call.
For years I made the mistake of thinking of it as a like-for-like replacement for the landline phone. Some time in the late 1990s, I watched in sneering fascination as a family in my neighbourhood, father, mother and daughter, walked the park in the mornings, holding their mobile phones. My superciliousness was driven by two questions: a) why couldn’t they walk in the park for half an hour without a phone and b) why did each member of this family need a phone? Wasn’t one enough?