By Dr. Sohail Ansari
We had telegraphy posted recently, and now comes telephone. The first patent of which went to Graham Bell in March 1876. Some may recall the Karachi days of three, four and later five digit phone numbers, trunk calls – waiting for those and three minutes were over in a jiffy, and public call offices. There were locks for telephones to avoid abuse. And there was Nazia and Zohaib Hassan’s fourth album, released in 1987: ‘Hotline’, with its first song being ‘Telephone Pyar’.
The telephone was introduced in British India in 1881. As with the telegraph, the government was initially the sole owner of the telephone which came under the Telegraph Department. Following Calcutta, few other major cities including Karachi got the technology.The main offices of the Indo-European Telegraph Offices complex in Karachi were located on McLeod Road. This was a large complex, designed by Captain P. Phelps and constructed at a total cost of £21,000.At the time of independence, Pakistan inherited a meagre 14,000 land lines.
In 1949, Karachi (which was the capital) had five telephone exchanges in operation: the Cantt Exchange, the Garden Exchange, the Central Exchange on Bolton Road, the Trunk Exchange on McLeod Road, and the Park Capital Exchange at Sabzi Mandi. All had a capacity of up to 1,200 lines. London-Karachi phone with direct telephone service between the two cities opened in June 1949. Three minute calls costed £3. I recall well from 1980’s when calls from London to Karachi cost me £1.10 per minute and the operator often asked me if the ‘long’ call was worth that! In 1949, three regional schools for technicians were planned in Karachi, Dacca and Lyallpur. The center was later to be transferred from Lyallpur to Haripur where the Pakistan telephone factory was under construction. It was initially known as Telephone and Telegraph Department and included the post services.Siemens & Halske (S&H) built the Indo-European telegraph line link (1867–1870). It remained a main player for telephone industry in Pakistan. The Pak Industrial & Trading Corp. Ltd. was appointed to represent Siemens-Schuckertwerke (SSW) in Karachi in 1950. The joint venture Telephone Industries of Pakistan (TIP) was formed couple of years later. S&H and SSW found Siemens Pakistan Engineering Co. Ltd. in Karachi in 1953.We were so impressed with Maxwell Smart’s (of Get Smart) phone in his shoe, but did not imagine that one day we will have a mobile smart phone in our pockets!