The year was 2011 and we were in Istanbul on our honeymoon. Those still were early days of mobile affordability and we were to rely on the calling cards to make a call home and communicate our safety. This sounds ancient but we are talking of 2011, this very decade. This still sounds a different era because whatsapp calling wasn’t available, our hotel did not advertise free wifi or I think it did not advertise wifi at all! The cost of a call with the calling card was probably much more than what it is today for a call from the mobile phone on International roaming.
With a boutique hotel whose terrace café gave great views of the Blue mosque and its six minarets and the Gulhane park next doors, we focused on the tourist places in the area which lacked the telephone facility. A day or two later, we made our way downhill to the Galata bridge and the Süleymaniye Mosque. The area was buzzing with a continuous flow of cars, busses, trams and an equally busy ferry terminal.
A subway connected the walking corridor along the waterway and ferry terminal with the open area next to the Süleymaniye Mosque. The subway was no different than any one in a busy Indian city. Full of hawkers selling anything and everything that you can think off. As tourists we were their prime target and each shop keeper was trying to attract us to his shop.
Amidst this, we saw a stall selling calling cards and next to it were public phones which accepted these calling cards. The instructions to use the card were in Turkish and the only thing we managed to understand is that we needed to scratch an area on the card to get the access code. With access code in tow, neither did the instructions on the phone help nor on the card. Simply because they were in Turkish.
Thankfully the numbers were in English script and thus we could understand some bit and started trying. We entered the scratch code followed by *0 00 91 xx xxxxxxxx and then came some automated recording in what we presumed was Turkish. Attempt 1 unsuccessful. We tried again, this time the effort was on trying to select the language if any before we could proceed. Attempt 2 unsuccessful. The third attempt was to look around and see if there is any help. There were two concerns. First was to genuinely call home and inform that we are safe and sound. Second was that we now had a card which was loaded with money and we could use it for nothing else but calling and we were not able to make the call!
As we stood there looking at the Galata bridge and contemplating what next, two young ladies suddenly looked at my wife and shouted Henna! And came to us to see the intricate design of Henna on TWs hand. This was immediately after our wedding and the wedding mehendi was still visible on her hands. Both of them then asked if we are from India and we nodded in affirmative. They saw the calling card in our hand and asked if we need any help with it to which we nodded in affirmative and they solved the problem by adding one more “0” to the number. This was written in Turkish and was applicable for a list of few countries which Included India.
The young ladies told us about use of Henna in Turkey and how popular it is and were genuinely happy to see it on TWs hands and were overwhelmed by the designs. We were just happy that we could call home, inform about us and get news about folks back home and use the calling card. There have been many times when being Indian has benefitted, this was one where applying Henna on hand came to the rescue!
Cheap international roaming, easy availability of wifi, whatsapp calling is all very convenient but the bonding and excitement with locals over something as trivial as Henna and the phone booths – from the iconic red ones of London to the make shift yellow ones in India are now missing!