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The First Phone Call Back Home Took 50 Days In 1990

The First Phone Call Back Home Took 50 Days In 1990

Can you imagine that today?

I remember the day so clearly, it was in October 1990, my parents were looking at me, teary eyed from across the glass door at Indira Gandhi International Airport as I was on my way to USSR for higher education. I too was going with a heavy heart, as I had never stayed away from my parents till then. However, at the same time I was prepared to embark on my own life journey – I knew I had to be positive. Still, there were some facts that were playing on my mind:

  1. I didn’t know Russian language.
  2. Russians didn’t know English at that time.
  3. I didn’t even know to which city and college the USSR Government would send me once I reach Moscow.
  4. I didn’t know who would pick me up from the Moscow Airport.
  5. I didn’t know where would they take me from Moscow Airport.

I also didn’t know at that time that the next communication between my parents and me would only be about 50 days later.

When I reached Moscow, much to my relief, there was an Education Ministry official who received me at the airport and took me to a hostel in the outskirts of Moscow. That would be my home for the next two weeks. It was an isolated places with farms all around – with no TV, no communication with the outside world. The food served in that hostel was usually boiled potatoes, boiled eggs, soup, boiled meat and dry bread.

Foreign students who came to Erstwhile-USSR would have to come to Moscow first and wait for the Education Ministry to grant them permission for higher education. The students would have to go to a city that the ministry chose for them. This wait for permissions used to take anywhere between a week to a month. After staying there for two weeks, eventually my order came. I was to go to Tashkent. There were some other Indian students in the hostel who received orders for Tashkent. As soon as we received the orders, a ministry official escorted us to the railway station and helped us on the train to Tashkent.

The train journey from Moscow to Tashkent lasted two days and three nights. The food became scarce in the train – we survived on soup (Borsch) and dry bread.That’s all that was available on trains at that time; ironically there was plenty of vodka. All this while my parents had no clue about my whereabouts. It was a different world in 1990, especially in the then Soviet Union.

After settling down in a hostel in Tashkent; and learning a few words of Russian Language, I started venturing out in search of a post office so that I could call my parents. When I found one I was told that calls could only be booked for the next week. Communist Times!

I booked a call and went there next week, anxious and excited at the same time, dying to talk to my parents. The system of telecommunication was such that all international calls were diverted through Moscow. I was told that Moscow was not able to connect my call that day. I could imagine what my parents would be going through. Their only child was away for more than a month and they had no idea where he was. It took me a couple of weeks before I could actually connect and talk to my parents.  More than twenty-seven years have passed since then, but I still get overwhelmed with emotion every time I think about that first phone call which took fifty days. Can you imagine that in today’s times?

Dear DTMU students, I hope the next time that you talk to your parents on skype or whatsapp you remember the story of my first phone call and appreciate the good times you are living in. However, I look back at this period of my life very fondly. I re-lived so many past memories while penning these thoughts. Life has been a real adventure.

Since I have been a student who travelled out of his comfort zone, to another country and culture, I always have a soft corner for all students who do the same. Especially whenever anyone faces any difficulties. Although I must add that difficulties are a part of life. There is no one who goes through life without challenges. I am sure today you face a different set of challenges. But remember, all these challenges and problems will become beautiful memories one day. You will also remember them fondly at a later stage in life. God bless!