Unlike a David who, with just a slingshot, cleverly disguised audaciousness and the element of surprise, brought an oversized, overconfident and, possibly, out-of-match-practice Goliath to his knees, I always tend to come away second-best – defeated, diddled and devastated – when I have to deal with the faceless behemoths – Goliaths in their own right – that pass for customer care centres of the service providers – telecom and television, to name two of the largest – that have become such an ubiquitous influence on our lives.
To start with, the helpline number blazoned across my wonderful-to-have-you-with-us invitation letter is rarely the one that’s active, if the definition of ‘active’ is to be greeted by a robotic voice trying – and failing miserably – to be warm and hospitable and being put on a perennial hold during which I am informed, with irritating regularity in-between repeated snatches of a remarkably tuneless jingle, that my call is important to them, whoever they might be, and that I should hang on till a customer care representative gets to me even if that means my giving up whatever else I was planning to do for the rest of the day, like meeting my editor’s deadline for this piece which I’ve missed twice already.
After an opening salvo that might have deterred a lesser opponent, which I believe myself not to be, the robot changes tack and asks me to press 1 for English, 2 for Hindi, 3 for Bengali, 4 for Tamil, 5 for Telegu and so on till it’s 9 to hear the menu all over again, which it inevitably is since, by then, I’ve forgotten the sequence of language options, although, as subsequent events reveal, I needn’t have bothered to remember them in the first place. Irrespective of the number I press, the language is always Hindi, which I have no problem with except to wonder why was so much effort and time is wasted to make me believe I actually have a choice when I really don’t have any?
The first couple of times this happens, when my perverse choice of English is ignored and I am identified by a mispronounced and almost unrecognizable version of my name in a guttural Hindi that, no doubt, emanates from some faraway office in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, where real estate is significantly cheaper than it is in Delhi, I demand that I be spoken to in the language I have chosen. I quickly realize that this is a mistake: it only tends to prolong my agony because the English on offer, when it is at all recognizable – requiring as it does frequent repetition, interpretation and, inevitably, translation back into Hindi – only means that I am wasting twice the time I would have if I had pressed 2 in the first place (or any number for that matter because, as I am soon to discover, all roads lead to the same destination, much as it did, in older times, to Rome).
Having finally reached someone who by the sound of it, though there is no conclusive evidence to confirm it beyond all reasonable doubt, is not a robot and overcoming my initial discomfort at the way he pronounces my name or the inordinate time he takes to list my address because Bengali street names and Kolkata’s geography are as alien to him as would be Greek ones to me, I finally get to report the problem I am facing. Even before I have quite finished, he regrets, with obvious insincerity, the inconvenience I have been caused and puts me back on hold while he goes off to retrieve my case, as if I am some unrepentant, repeat offender which, in his book, I might well be for having deigned to complain at all.
Patience frayed at the edges, teeth on edge, brain riddled with sales messages and tuneless jingles, I am nearing the end of my tether when he returns to the ether Siberia I’d been consigned to and, with grating ebullience, announces that my problem requires a site visit, which he’d be pleased to organize for me if I’d reconfirm my name and address and while I’m doing that is there anything else he might assist me with because, if I hadn’t noticed already, he is so very happy to help?
“Have a good day!”