I don’t know about you, but I am frequently, almost constantly, pestered over my mobile phone by people I do not know from Adam or Eve, trying to dragoon me into buying something I am not in the least bit interested. Like investing in an apartment complex promoted by builders I have never heard of, banks or some shady financial institution attempting to get into my ribs for a few lakhs of rupees promising mouth-watering returns without even my having read the small print, membership of a proposed new club in my vicinity at dirt cheap rates for first movers (never mind that the club will take five years to come up, if at all it does, and that’s beyond my sell-by date) and all that is merely scratching the surface. The new age marketing mavens have found all kinds of innovative ways in which to keep you occupied over your mobile. Of course, a lot of the blame for this abominable nuisance is down to me. I unthinkingly keep giving out my mobile number to all kinds of shops and establishments whenever they prepare the bill. They just ask you, very casual like, ‘Mobile number, Sir’, like it was a piece of information you were legally obliged to provide. My response is Pavlovian. The mouth starts working before the brain kicks in. ‘98765 43210’ you respond mechanically. And you do this in several different places over the days, months and weeks. And it all adds up, the multiplier effect. Incidentally, if you thought that was my mobile number, you’ve got another think coming.
For a number of years now, I have been attempting ways in which to answer these calls with a brilliantly witty, cutting and telling put down. But when the nuisance of a call actually comes, you’ve forgotten the punch line and mumble something pretty tame like. ‘I am busy, kindly call later.’ That, of course, is a terrible mistake. That ‘Kindly call later’ is clearly surplus to requirements, for the next question inevitably is, ‘When will it be convenient, Sir?’ Never a good option, asking them to call later. Much better to bark, ‘How about never and stop bugging me’ and slam the phone down. Speaking metaphorically, of course. You’re on your mobile and can’t ‘slam’ the gadget down, risking irreparable damage to the instrument. You can violently press your forefinger on the touch screen, but it’s a waste of effort with only a sprained finger to show for it.
I have been thinking long and hard about this pestilential problem all of us face on a daily basis and I decided, after careful consideration, based on my personal experience, to share a typical mobile telephonic exchange with my bank (actually it is some remote service provider who probably can’t tell the difference between an FD and an SB account) and how I tend to tackle such untimely calls. If you must answer the call when an unknown number flashes on your screen (you never know, it could be that lottery company from Nagaland from whom you blithely bought a ticket, informing you of an unexpected windfall – hope springs eternal), you can at least have the satisfaction of having delivered a few great snubs that will, hopefully, put the caller off for at least a couple of weeks. They are possessed of very thick skins, these service providers. So here goes.
I was calling my bank to inquire what my meagre bank balance was as on date. After tapping 2 for English, 6 for account inquiries and 8 to talk to a representative and being told ‘all our service staff are busy attending to other customers, kindly hold the line and we appreciate your patience’, I patiently wait for 12 minutes while a nameless, hotel lobby tune (sounded like an unrecognizably watered down version of Beethoven’s Für Elise) keeps reverberating mesmerizingly in an endless loop, interspersed every two minutes with a recorded message asking me to invest in one of the bank’s new Fixed Deposit schemes offering 5% pre-tax annual interest. Like I was born yesterday! What’s more, that ‘service staff busy, appreciate your patience blah, blah’ keeps repeating itself every three minutes. Finally.
‘Good morning, Mr. Subrahmanyan, you have reached the National Bank of India, and this is Shweta. Can you kindly confirm your mobile number?’
‘Look, after 12 excruciating minutes of waiting, I was about to hang up. Listen Shweta, you have just correctly identified my name by the simple expedient of linking it with the mobile number I called you from. What further confirmation do you want? And can you please do something about that dreadful Yanni-type music?’ I was quite irritable. With just cause. After asking me what ‘expedient’ meant, she continued.
‘It’s standard procedure, Sir. You could be somebody else speaking from the same number. Can you please confirm your date of birth?’ I did as bid. It could still have been somebody else who knew my birthday! She completely ignored my Yanni wisecrack. Probably never heard of him.
‘Thank you, Sir. Please answer this simple question. What is the name of your favourite musician, as recorded in our KYC?’
‘For crying out loud, I can’t remember what I entered in the KYC 15 years ago. Does it matter? Could be anyone, John Lennon, Bob Dylan or Sanjay Subrahmanyan. And definitely not Yanni. For heaven’s sake!’
‘There’s no call to be rude, Sir. We are only doing our job.’
‘And not very well, I might add. Forget about it. I’ll call again and hope I will be connected to someone who will not insist on my revealing the location of my birthmark. Where that is, of course, is not to be divulged to an impressionable, young lady. It’s bad enough that you can read it on my KYC.’
I promptly hung up. Thought I heard a snigger from the other end before the line went dead. I allowed matters to stay that way for a couple of days, felt a cooling off period was in order. I might have been a bit harsh with young Shweta at the bank, with good reason mind you, but really she was only doing her job, and I should have been less crotchety. For all I know, she may have been crying on her boyfriend’s shoulders over a cappuccino at Costa’s that evening. I resolved to be more conciliatory next time.
A few days later, ‘next time’ arrived. The call came at 3 in the afternoon on a Sunday. Siesta time. I was not best pleased and reacted angrily at some other lady from the same National Bank.
‘Listen, it’s Sunday afternoon. Don’t you have any consideration when to make a sales call. For the last time, I am not interested in your latest Fixed Deposit offer, your pension-linked mutual fund scheme with a freebie insurance plan thrown in or any other hare-brained idea your boffins at Head Office keep pulling out of their hats. Please do not call me again. And how come you’re working on a Sunday?’
‘Just one minute, Sir’, the lady cooed icily. ‘I am Mrs. Bhide, Assistant General Manager – Portfolio Management, calling from Head Office. I rang to inform you that your last long term investment of Rs.10 lakhs has matured accruing a cumulative interest of 9.75%, and I wanted to know if you wished to redeem the same or reinvest at a much lower interest. However, if I have disturbed your beauty sleep, we can forget all about it, and the amount will automatically be locked in for another 10 years. And I am working overtime on a Sunday because people like you can’t be bothered about your own investments. Goodbye!’ Would you believe it, she actually slammed the receiver down. She was calling from a landline.
Hoist with my own petard. These things obviously cut both ways. I had to eat humble pie and call her back immediately with craven apologies. Mobile telephony. Can’t make up my mind if it’s a blessing or a curse. Whatever happened to the days when you could walk into your local branch, sit in the manager’s air-conditioned ‘chamber’, and discuss the latest cricket scores and political upheaval over a cup of weak tea and a thin arrowroot biscuit? Now it’s Shweta one day, Sita the next, but keep your ears open and eyes peeled for the dreaded Mrs. Bhide!’ Never mind if you’re enjoying a nap. You ignore her call at your own peril.