At 11 a.m., Rakesh Pandya walks in for a quick cup of tea and logs into his constantly buzzing world of seven landlines and two intercoms. Pandya’s fingers begin dancing on the phone keypad as he fields calls from party workers who enquire about various rallies, citizens who want phone numbers of their MLAs, and people who want to talk to the party spokespersons.
With Assembly elections just days away, the BJP headquarters, nestled in the colourful chaos of Khanpur in Central Ahmedabad, is a pulsating sea of visitors, BJP workers and mediapersons. Amid all this, Pandya sits calmly in a small corner, surrounded by taped sheets of phone numbers and names, and mouths ‘haanjis’ into the phone. The North Indian greeting is perhaps an influence of too many visitors from Delhi. “From my first day here back in ’98, I have been manning the telephones. Despite all the smartphones, Internet and iPads, a landline telephone is crucial at the headquarters of any political party,” he says.
At the office or karyalaya, Pandya’s phenomenal memory for numbers is the stuff of stories. He remembers more than 5,000 numbers. “Once I read a number, it gets imprinted in my mind and I am confident that I won’t forget it for the next 10 years,” he says.
Pandya, one of the three phone operators at the karyalaya who work in shifts, came to Ahmedabad in 1995 from a village in Sabarkantha. “Being a telephone operator is a 365-day job. We take 700 to 800 calls a day. Thankfully, between the three of us, we do manage breaks and holidays,” he says. He eats his lunch when he is relieved by another operator around 2 p.m.
The day has been far from ordinary for the telephone operator who has seen three successful election campaigns. Morning saw Chief Minister Narendra Modi hold his first press conference at the karyalaya since 2010 to welcome a top Congress leader, Narhari Amin, into the party. The office is abuzz with a steady stream of visitors, but Pandya is unruffled. “We are used to seeing a lot of ho-halla (commotion) and protest rallies, especially by the Congress, but I have never been bothered by them. The BJP will win with a thumping majority even this time. Wins are celebrated like weddings here. That is truly a memorable part of my job even though the phones do not stop ringing.”