IT STARTED WITH THE INTERNET
The first sign of trouble was an email from Airtel, warning us we’d blown through the monthly gigabyte download limit on our internet plan in 4 days. This wasn’t surprising. The internet’s used very sparingly here, so we’re on a low plan. But I’m a very heavy net-user, and – this was the US Election night. “If you have any queries, please feel free to contact us at 121 from your airtel fixedline,” it ended.
It would be nice to know just how much this 24/7 connectivity was going to cost me, so I called them. And found myself in possibly the worst-designed phone menu in the known universe.
It started off well, wishing me a warm welcome, and asking me to press 1 for English and 2 for Hindi. It went downhill fast. It asked me to press more buttons, but if I didn’t press at just the right time, it said it wasn’t a valid response and dumped me out. Eventually, on about the fifth try, I got to the point where it asked for my ten-digit User ID. Except, my user ID – according to the email – wasn’t ten digits. It was 11 digits, an underscore, and two lower-case letters, forcing me to try various permutations.
Each time, if I didn’t enter it at just the right moment, it would cut out. More irritatingly, it would accept the number, ask me to verify it, then say it was not a correct number, and gleefully announce “Oops! That was your last try. Goodbye!” Pressing 0 continuously didn’t yield an operator. A live chat line promised in the original bill reached a dead address. I never did manage to reach anyone, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if this month’s internet bill looks like the national debt.
AIRTEL CELLULAR SOMEDAY
And that’s not all. In parallel, I was trying to acquire a local cellphone. I’ve done this before, seamlessly; I wrote about that here: A US Cellphone in India.
Expecting something similar, I stopped in at the local mobile phone outlet and bought a phone (my old one had died) and an Airtel SIM card. They needed a proof of identity, for which I gave them a copy of my passport, and a photograph. No problem, I always carry a sheaf of passport-size photos. They assured me it would be activated the same night.
I went back the next day. Oh, they said, the photo you gave us was black and white. They need a color photo. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. So they filled in a new form and attached a color photo. It would be activated, they said, the next day by 11 a.m.
I went back that evening and complained. It’s a problem, the man said, but it will be activated tomorrow by 1 p.m., 100% positive.
I called them. In half an hour, they assured me. Definite. One hour later…
I called them again. “We’ll call you back in ten minutes,” they said.
That was an hour ago. My phone still looks like the picture above.
On the cellphone: I went back to the shop. They gave me an “emergency Vodafone SIM card” which is indeed live. My Airtel card, they assured me, would get activated. Eventually.
On the Internet: An Airtel screen showed up on my machine, and I was able to buy data downloads at Rs 50/ hour for a speed of 1 mbbps.