MY LIFE & STRUGGLES – 21
TELEPHONE EXCHANGE – A FAMILY AT WORKSPOT
I was not new to Calicut. While coming to attend Monthly Meetings with DET, Union meetings etc. used to visit Telephone Exchange, contact union workers and other staff. Every service / department has its special characteristics and method of working. Telephone Operators mostly get acquainted first through telephone calls. They might not have seen each other personally, but will recognise by voice from their experience while putting through calls. Friendship is developed. This helps them in putting through calls quickly and efficiently. Due to shift duties, almost everyone will know the staff in other exchanges. In union conferences, meetings etc. they meet directly, personally. Some lady friends in Calicut used to request to bring the beautiful book-like box made by Fire Service Station staff of Cannanore, who utilised their leisure time for the same. My lodge was nearby to the Fire service Station and purchasing and taking them to Calicut friends was no problem. I specially remember Subhadra Chechi ( late Subhadra D.Potti), who was at Calicut and got request transfer to Trivandrum.
By the time I joined Kozhikode, CB Exchange has been upgraded to Automatic exchange. Extreme difficulties faced by staff in a big CB exchange with thousands of telephone numbers were over. Operators were employed in Trunk Exchange, Auto Manual Exchange and Test Desk. In Auto Manual section local enquiries (197), Assistance (199), Time announcement functioned, while Test desk dealt with testing, fault maintenance and ordering of linemen to repair fault.
The large auto exchange was manned by Mechanics with a few Engineering Supervisors. Outdoor faults were rectified by Linemen assisted by mazdoors and supervised by S.I.s and L.I.s.
In trunk exchange, where I joined, out of about 200 staff, except a few LSG Monitors, mechanics and telephone operators, all others were lady telephone operators. A very busy exchange. Once you start duty, you will have to pay your attention completely for putting through calls and nothing else. More and more booked trunk tickets will come to the board for putting through. One will have to answer distant stations and connect local numbers for their calls. Originating exchange will book the outward ticket (White colour) and receiving exchange will book the Inward Ticket (Red colour). In case of transit station, Transit ticket (Yellow Colour) will be booked. All tickets will have to be arranged based on the time of booking as also giving priority to Immediate and Urgent calls, for which higher charges are levied. 7.30 hours duty, minus half hour meals relief and 15 minutes tea relief was a period of hard work. After putting through the calls, the tickets will be collected and after calculating the charges, will be despatched by Post next day to the Telephone Revenue Accounts Office (TRAO), who will prepare the bills and send to subscribers monthly.
There are separate boards for ticket booking (180) as also trunk enquiries (181). Here, subscribers directly contact, book ticket or enquire about delay of the call booked. Call queuing system has not been introduced. Subscriber will hear ring going for long time; becomes angry thinking why not getting answer. In fact, operator will be continuously answering calls, but subscribers do not know that. Many times operator will have to bear angry comments and shouts from subscribers protesting delay, questions like ‘are you sleeping’ etc. Operator cannot become angry and will have to calmly explain. Later, call queue system was introduced in which subscriber will be automatically informed that he/she is in queue. This reduced complaints and gave relief to staff.
In addition to Supervisors on the spot, there were Observation Supervisors, to observe, whether operators were putting through the calls quickly, whether unnecessary talk with operators on the other end etc. etc. They will be sitting in another secret room and can observe all trunk lines and boards without knowledge of concerned operator. Any mistake, mischief – action can be taken on the basis of report of Observation Supervisor.
In every institution where shift system is there, close friendship and extreme co-ordination is normal. According to requirement of one or other, mutual exchange of duty is allowed on request. All will require this at one time or other. While working also, support from other operator is required.
Trunk Boards are connected with one another and staffs are required to work sitting close by. While putting through calls, both hands will be busy. All will be careful to avoid touching each other, since men and women are working. For ladies, dormitory facilities are available next to Trunk room. Women workers were most secure and safe. All were just part of the same family. A problem for one was a problem for all.
Sometimes it also happens that the officials who are working in the same office fall in love and become life-partners, as in case of doctors. Usually families agree. Even in other cases, gradually everything will be settled. In Calicut exchange also there were many such couples. Union naturally supported such marriages. In all exchanges, many such couples could be seen.
Within a few days, got acquainted with all colleagues. In the next branch union conference, I was elected as the Branch Secretary of the union. Com.P.N.Kurup, who was the earlier Branch Secretary, was a very active comrade. He got transfer to Cannanore on request along with his wife, Com.Vilasini, Telephone Operator.
Duties of union functionaries were manifold. On pay day, first working day of the month when salary will be disbursed, union office-bearers will sit nearby and collect monthly subscription. It is a time to meet all workers and hear their problems. Receipts for subscription received will be issued then and there. It was a best opportunity to meet all the members in a month. Almost all were members, since there was no other union. An official was either a member or non-member. There was no other union.
I became more and more engaged in union activities. Com.K.Bhaskaran Nair was the Divisional Secretary. In I965, I was elected as the Divisional Secretary. More responsibility. Calicut Telegraph Division included offices/exchanges in Cannanore, Kozhikode districts, including Wynad area. It included Tirur, Manjeri, Malappuram stations also. Continuous organisational tour became the routine. It helped to have close contact with the workers of outstations. (to be continued)
Photoes (1) A Trunk Exchange (2) News paper report about arrest of Com.K.P.Ramakrishnan and V.Narayanan kutty, TOs, Tellicherry and (3) Com.K.P.Ramakrishnan (retired as DET) (4) Smt. Subhadra D.Potti (5 -7) Auto Exchange and phone.