The other end of the line Image: Thinkstock
Usually, when my phone flashes a weird number (and Truecaller doesn't work because 3G and 4G is a scam), I switch the ringer off and ignore the call. That day, the number was so weird, I was intrigued enough to answer. It was God.
"Good morning, am I speaking to yours truly?" asked a shrill, determined voice.
"Affirmative," I was trying to be cool.
"Hi, my name is Neetu Singh and I'm calling from We-have-all-your-details-thanks-to-your-Aadhaar Bank."
Neetu Singh? Is this a joke? Bollywood journalists are often accused of being too filmi — we quote obscure dialogues and break into songs at every opportune moment. But this was too much. Neetu Singh, as in Ranbir Kapoor's mother, was calling me? Must be a friend pulling a prank, I thought. But then she said something that the Kapoor Khandaan couldn't know about me.
"You have been using our poor man's consolation credit card for three years and have been very regular with payments. That makes you eligible for a loan. Are you looking for one?"
"Loan? Nope. Not doing that. Already having a hard time paying my CC bills every month. No loans for me, thank you," I was about to hang up but she had more rabbits up her sleeve for me.
"Hard time paying your CC bills? But according to our records, you have a steady job. And you haven't changed your job in the last two years."
"You have that information with you? Is that linked to my Aadhaar?" I'm now at the edge of my seat. What else does this KYC linking disclose about my life?
"Yes, ma'am. That and your exact take-home salary. Not the one you tell your friends."
"Huh, that should be easy. My salary account is with your bank. You didn't surprise me there."
"We also know that you're underpaid. At your age and with your experience, you should have drawn at least 30 per cent more than this."
"Fish! Aahh, well what can I do about this. Let's hope things change after appraisals."
"How about the loan then? A personal loan?"
"What do I take a loan for? I don't need it. Besides, didn't you just say I am underpaid?"
"According to our records, you neither have an MBA nor a PhD. Perhaps, you can opt for an education loan, get a new degree. That will definitely help you get a raise." Neetu had suddenly reminded me of what my father had said five years ago, "Get a PhD, you can always work later." I didn't listen to him, I wasn't going to listen to her.
"Rubbish. I don't need an MBA or a PhD. I'm fine. I don't need a loan."
"How about a foreign trip? You can opt for a personal loan and use the money for a European holiday."
"What? Do you think this is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge? Just hang up." I was losing patience.
"You could find Raj. You need Raj. Or Rahul. You're lonely."
"Whaa? Lonely? And my Aadhaar told you that?"
"Well, you've been spending your money on Netflix and Amazon Prime subscription. You've been buying single movie tickets; clearly you are watching movies alone..."
"Alright, alright. I am alone, not lonely. There's a difference. And I am not going to spend 4 lakh on a utopian European holiday to change that. I don't need Raj."
"Okay, no Raj. How about just a trip? You haven't been on a holiday for a while. The last trip was to Kolkata to visit your family."
"I can't afford it. Don't you see that?"
"I know you can't afford it. That is why we are offering you a loan."
"Please, I have enough pressure at work, don't want another..."
"Hmm. Are you satisfied with your job?"
"Yes, except the money bit that you already know. Why? You want to offer me a job now?"
"Yet you're not willing to improve your skillsets by studying further in order to draw a higher salary."
"You'd much rather sit there and sulk about your job. But you're too scared to take a risk?"
"I take enough risks...."
"Your boss would have loved you to write about your Euro holiday. Even that's one way of getting ahead at work. But you're scared to take a risk."
"I'm not going to attempt something I will invariably fail at."
"Why not ma'am?"
"Because I'm a practical person."
"Hmm. So you're a film journalist right?"
"Most of the time."
"We're sending you a complimentary DVD of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. We hope cinema can put some sense into you and convince you to settle for Spain, if not Europe. Arjun, if not Raj."
"Fishing hell! Fine. But that's not going to help. I like that movie but I hate tomatoes, so no tomatina for me. Haha!"
"I know that ma'am. I can only take you to the well but I cannot make you drink. I can only tell you that you're wasting your life but I cannot make you do something about it. I'll call you tomorrow after you've finished watching the movie. Have a great day."
Neetu Singh never called back and I've never seen the same number or any similar number flash on my phone ever again. I still have no money but I at least now I know who to blame for it (it's me, if you haven't guessed it already).