For all that we complain about people talking on cellphones in public places, there is a seductive unfinishedness about one-sided monologues. To the voyeur, the banal becomes elevated and not just because of your desire to join the dots. It is this secret failing of ours that Abhinandita Mathur’s Telephone Pyaar feeds.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mathur’s audio project (supported by Khoj studio) brought together young people in Khirkee, a Delhi neighbourhood, who wrote stories of love where the telephone featured as deux ex machina. You can listen to some of the stories in the project, picked for minimal drama and most everydayness, on YouTube. In one, all you hear is a young man’s callow voice on the phone. He cajoles and curses his Rukhsar who has kept him waiting outside the multiplex. He wants her but why does she do this to him? He is leaving, he is waiting. He will never call her again. Would she come next week wearing capris? You are bored but fascinated.

Mathur’s energy for the project came while stuck in a tiny Cambodian town during a prestigious photo festival. “There were all these macho photographers with their giant lenses all jumping around determined to photograph poverty in Cambodia.” With her characteristically sweet, vague-seeming but stubborn attitude to work, Mathur set up a studio on the streets and offered to photograph passersby against defiantly flowery backdrops.

Back in Delhi she was convinced that while much of her work had been privileged by her knowledge of the local, her own neighbourhood would never enjoy her work. Telephone Pyaar is the first project which connects with her own mohalla. But not even she could have anticipated how much.

Mathur found a publisher of Rs 10 books — fiction, poetry, Rafi lyrics, bus routes all come together happily in these books — who wanted to print the stories. Since her Hindi typing skills were dodgy she gave them to a professional typist. She returned and found that the typist had added his own epic story of telephone romance into the collection. The spiral binder and the Xerox-wallah all had little notebooks to show her and stories to add.

Telephone Pyaar is a curio from a landscape that is very slowly becoming familiar to Anglophone audiences through movies such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! or fiction such as Mridula Koshy’s. Mathur’s work is too affectionate to make the listener feel neurotic, too kind for you to imagine yourself James Stewart in a Delhi Rear Window, too unpretentious to allow anyone but the most deadly determined to spin theories of gender and class in urban India.


Published here.