I do not use credit cards. The underlying philosophy being that it would only encourage me to spend what I didn't have and would charge me for getting into debt. When I got my first debit card, I was sent a free credit card by HDFC, since I had a corporate account. I didn't use it, told them I didn't want it and when they tried to charge me for 'services', I cut up the card into four little pieces and posted it back. (Aside: This was the time when one frustrated telemarketer told me - "What is it with you Muslims? People of your community always refuse to buy credit cards." I was at a loss; how does one answer that sort of question? I should have said, "Really? Good for my community!" But I didn't.)
Besides, journalists were on the banking blacklist back then. Many papers published reports saying that mediapeople were one of the groups that had awful credit ratings. Then, the media boom happened. Salaries shot through the roof and once again, the random phone-calling began.
All this while, I resisted. But lately, it has been very inconvenient not having one. To book rail or air tickets. To shop online. To book hotel rooms in advance. To establish credentials. One needs a credit card, and I ended up asking friends or family to book on my behalf.
That was why, when a turbaned, timid-looking salesman interrupted my fruit-salad break outside my office, and asked me if I'd like an ICICI credit card, between the slice of mango and the slice of chikoo, I said, 'Yes, please. I would'.
This turbaned salesman (TS) beckoned to his companion, a more articulate senior, I presume, and they followed me to my office. They asked for proof of identity etc. I cited passport numbers, pan card numbers, Form 16, visiting card, ATM balance-enquiry slip etc. The senior salesman (SS) asked me to just sign the form and said he'd do the rest.
I was taken aback. "How will you fill up my application form? You don't know me at all."
SS said, "Oh, we have your documents and we'll call you if we need any further information. Just remember one thing. When the bank calls you to verify your details, don't mention that you live in a rented accomodation."
It turned out that ICICI, as a matter of policy, will not give credit cards to those who live in Delhi but do not own a house there, which is more than half the population, I'm sure.
"But what if they ask for proof of residence?" I objected.
SS said, "Oh, don't worry. This verification business happens online or through the phone. They won't come knocking at your door."
I was uncomfortable with the lie, but the two of them persuaded me that I didn't need to lie. They'd do all the lying. I just needed to keep my mouth shut about living in a rented place.
They got up to leave again, but I insisted on filling up the form myself.
In the section that asked how many years I've worked at my current and previous jobs, SS told me to put in 5 years. "Or at least 3 years."
He said, "But ma'am, that is the way things are done. You just write double the actual figures. That's how credit ratings are established."
I still refused.
At any rate, these guys left, TS' face all grins; his incentives would probably come through, after all.
In the evening, the bank called, to verify details. When I was trying to strike a bargain with the mango-wala.
A minute later, SS called me back. "Ma'am. There is a problem. You're a reporter and ICICI, as a policy, does not give credit cards to journalists. So, why don't you just change the employment details? Shall I put down 'self-employed'?"
"But how can I do that?"
"It's very simple ma'am. Nobody checks these things. I'll manage the form."
The mango-seller was cheating me, I noticed; putting a little 200 gm weight on the same side as the chosen mangoes.
I took a deep breath, struggling to bring a smile into my voice (tehzeeb, tehzeeb! never forget your tehzeeb). "I see. Listen, if ICICI bank has a policy of not giving credit cards to journalists, then I don't want a card from ICICI bank."
I turned to the mango-seller and pointed out, politely, (tehzeeb, remember?) that he'd been cheating me. He threw up his hands, as if he was being victimized in some way, and returned some of my money in loose change, as if he was doing me a favour. The correct thing to do would have been to throw his mangoes at his face, turn into a perfect domestic harridan and give him the tongue-lashing of the month. However, I simply took the change and left. (Aside to self: Hurree Babu was right. I might as well get myself a T-shirt that reads 'Kick me please. Everybody else does.')
Being the trusting idiot that I am, I haven't even bothered taking down the salesmen's names or phone numbers. Now, the temptation to call them, asking them to return my photos and documents, bringing back that form with my signatures on it, is overwhelming. I really would like to tear it up into tiny little bits, in front of their noses. (Of course, I intend to ask them if they wanted a cup of coffee, while I do that. Tehzeeb etc). As a matter of principle, I wouldn't name those particular salesmen because other salespeople do the same, probably. They must've been trained by their seniors to 'manage' forms this way.
Also, as a matter of principle, I wouldn't accept a card from a bank that doesn't trust journalists, as a matter of policy. But can somebody tell me - what sort of principles does ICICI bank have? I'm not angry enough to sue, but it seems to me that being discriminated against, as a matter of policy, is good grounds for a rather visible round of litigation.
That apart, I have a salary account with ICICI. I was willing to let the bank directly debit all credit card dues from this account. This account always has one month's salary as a minimum balance, which I do not touch, come hail or storm. They could easily have verfied this by looking at the last year's bank statements. No loans, no defaulted payments... But they do not want me as a credit customer. Yet, if I lie about owning a house in this city, running a small business from this house for the last 5 years, they'd give me a higher credit rating. And a premium card with a credit limit that's close to a year's income... what sort of banking sense is that?
(Aside: Can somebody tell me of a bank that doesn't mistrust journalists and doesn't require you to own houses?)