Not every consumer is king

So much is being made of the mobile number portability introduced in India this week and a lot is being said about the consumer, now, finally being king. Perhaps that is right. But I think the consumer has been king, after a fashion, for a very long time, already. As long as mobile phones have been in fashion, that is.

I am not very happy with my service provider but I have been unable to change my number precisely because of the reasons why the portability has now been introduced in the country. I have had my current number for more than a decade and, frankly speaking, never felt the need to change it for the reasons that many others, including politicians and criminals, do (which has nothing to do with the service provider).

I recall, when I first got my number I was very shocked to realise it was not a fresh and brand new one. The number was a used one and the person who seemed to have had it before me, I have long suspected, was on the wrong side of the law. Because from the day I became ‘mobile’ I used to get strange calls and all sorts of odd messages used to be left on my voice mail.

There used to be people “standing” at petrol pumps “with the bags as ordered” by the previous owner of the number and they kept standing until late into the night with message after desperate message on my voice mail. I had hoped the first call I got on my phone would be from my mother or my boss. But I was utterly shocked when an absolutely foul-mouthed, seemingly illiterate individual called on my phone and said, “Kaun hai bay tu ?’’

And when I said, “Who the hell are you?”, he said with the utmost rudeness and contempt, “Apni inglis (English) ka bhaav kya khati hai? Chal, apne seth ko phone de! (Don’t try to impress me with your English. Hand the phone over to your master!”

Sure that I had been mistaken for a gangster’s moll, I had still not got over the shock when the next caller was a woman, politely describing herself as the “sister” of the man who had had the number before me and asking “Who are you, Ma’am?”

“Well, if you are his sister, you should have been among the first to know that he probably has another number,” I said. “And it does not really concern you who I am. But I might add, if you guys continue to call me in this fashion, I will have to report both the caller and the man with this number before me to the cops.”

The calls then abruptly ceased.

I did not have to face this kind of trouble – bar problems from the service provider and the unsolicited telemarketing calls – for long after that. But, recently, in the middle of my grief and mourning over my mother’s passing a couple of months ago, some such calls began again. Obviously, from unlettered people again and this time they were not afraid of the cops.

Because when I passed their numbers on to a friend in the Bombay police and asked him to discreetly investigate, these goons (whose names my friend managed to secure from the service provider) just changed their numbers and continued with the calls – and messages of love and longing that had a lot of sher-o-shairi in them beeped into my mobile long past midnight.

Frankly speaking, without having invited those calls and messages, I was too embarrassed to pursue them further. My cop friend said I should now lodge an official complaint with the police and my sister insisted as well. “There has to be a procedure for these kind of nonsense calls. There must be some section that can be used against these kind of criminals. Why don’t you teach these guys a lesson?”

But, as I told my sister, if these obscene callers were not afraid of the cops and had just got round them by changing their numbers, why would they be afraid of any complaint that I lodged agaisnt them? “They’ll deny they called me, would say they inadvertently dialled the wrong number and I would end up looking highly-strung and foolish.”

My sister was not convinced. But she told me, “Then don’t answer any numbers you don’t recognise.”

Now that, precisely, is my problem. I have always believed that if someone calls you, that call is either important for you or for the caller. So you might as well not miss the call if it holds an important message for you and if it is important to the caller well, then, it is common courtesy that you answer the call and help him/her out. Because some day you might have to seek a similar favour out of the caller.

“Then change your number,” she advised.

“That I cannot. Too many people have got used to this. Besides, why should I give so much importance to those nonsense callers and change my life for them?”

My sister lost all sympathy. “Then no one can help you out!” she said rather shortly.

Yes, no one. Not even number portability can be of use under such circumstances, can it?

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