Our telephonic association goes back a long way. I don't even remember how long. You do have a reputation for not listening and not caring about people who give you their money, and in a limited measure, their trust. But I'll try telling you anyway. Perhaps, you will learn.
I got my first cell phone about nine years ago. Back then, it was an Orange connection. It was a reasonably good service. It wasn't cheap, but I never had any horrid customer-relationship experiences.
Then there was a big hoo-haa about Reliance offering the best rates in the market. Everybody was getting a cheap phone. So when I moved to Delhi, I got myself a Reliance connection. It was a nightmare.
My biggest problem at that time was that bills would not arrive. Apparently, because I moved house. I asked you to make that change in your billing information records. It would not happen. I asked why. I was told you needed a new proof of address. I told you I did not have proof because I was renting or sub-letting. You shrugged. I asked you to change the address to my office address. You told me to get a letter from my office, certifying bonafides etc. I did so. The bills still did not arrive, at least, not on time.
I made a telephonic complaint, took down a complaint number. But, nothing.
I made it clear that I required a paper bill so I could get reimbursed at work. That was part of my deal at work. But to no avail.
This process would be repeated every month. Every month, I would get reminders from you to pay my bill on time. I would protest that I have not got my bill. You would shrug and ask me to come collect a copy from the nearest Reliance service center. In effect, this commute added between Rs 40 and Rs 60 to my monthly telephonic expenses. (Don't even get me started on the time wasted on this extra commute, and energy spent being mad at you.)
Your managers would nod, look at me blankly, give me one more complaint number on a scrap of entirely unofficial paper.
Once, I got into a raging fight with your tele-calling person. The lady - and later, another gentleman - kept insisting that I had to pay 'on time' while it was not yet time to pay up. Messages and phone calls would arrive at all hours of day, including weekends. When I tried to demand a paper bill, I would be told, 'We are just the call center', that I would have to go to Reliance headquarters if I wanted to take this further.
I decided that if the bill did not arrive yet again, I would switch to another service. Coincidentally, my mother wanted to gift me a new phone that month. We went looking for new handsets. At a Reliance outlet in Delhi, we were confronted with rude salespeople who did not have any of the designs we liked on the brochure.
As if to add insult to injury, that month, not only did I have to trek to the service center for the privilege of being able to pay the bill - on time! - I was also told that the systems were down and that they could not tell me how much I owed. When I pointed out that I did not know either because no bill was sent, your staff told me I should return the next day.
It meant yet another Rs 60. But I took a deep breath and went. This time, the printer was not working. I was told I could come back later at night or the next day if I wanted a paper bill. Another Rs 60 spent, just to get a valid printout.
The staff just stared at me dumbly when I protested, as if they could not see what the fuss was about.
I had had it with you. So I went to an Airtel store instead and bought a new handset and connection.
Then I called you, Reliance, and asked that our relationship be terminated. Your call center people umm-ed and ahem-ed and asked me why I wanted to discontinue the service. I told them. In detail.
The person said, 'Oh okay... but why do you wish to stop?'
As you can imagine, I had to take several deep breaths. That phone conversation must have lasted over 20 minutes, with me trying to say, 'Look, let's just end this. I want my phone to stop functioning tomorrow onwards. I shall pay the final bill and that's that.'
Your people would not allow me to even let go of the connection with any degree of civility. They insisted that I HAD to give them a reason. I said I don't like the service. They said, 'What don't you like about the service?' I said, 'I don't like anything about the service. Your people are rude. Your bills don't show up. You make me trek up and down. Even your damned printers don't work. What do you do with all that money etc etc?'
It was very frustrating, because your call center people began pointing out that they were only the call center; they themselves were not Reliance.
The long and short of it was that, by the time I had hung up, your people were still insisting on a 'reason' for disconnection. I sighed, asked to be disconnected before a new billing cycle began, and also asked to be given a number for the request. I paid the last bill before a new cycle could begin, switched off the phone and hoped that your guys would do their job. And I noted down that request number in a safe place. (I still have it).
I never used that phone again. But then, I began to get strange messages on my work phone, asking me to appear in court. From an unidentified person claiming to be a lawyer's assistant, but who would not say who she represented.
I was worried. For a journalist, the likelihood and threat of lawsuits is a very real one. Then I consulted my chief, and was told it might be a prank. It was a weekend and the court would be closed.
In the meantime, Airtel provided decent service, at least to me, and as long as I was paying on time, there were no issues.
Then, I returned to Bombay. There was already one Reliance phone user in the family and there was some sort of free number scheme going on. So I filled up the form, and allowed myself to try out Reliance one more time. But I was determined not to deal with your service centers or your call center staff. I got a pre-paid deal and kept usage at a minimum.
Within a few days, I started getting text messages saying I owed a bill of Rs 1700 something. I thought it was a mistake. A few months later, the mistake was repeated.
Not just that, within a few days of getting a new Reliance connection, I got an intimidating phone call from somebody who said he was a cop. Said there was some legal notice about dues etc, that I had to present myself in court. I thought it was a prank once again, and hung up.
Odd thing was, I got calls from acquaintances and even colleagues in Delhi, saying that they too had a 'cop' calling them, saying that I needed to appear in court, leaving a lawyer's name and number.
Odd, because this happened when most of my friends in Delhi did not even have my new number.
The other odd thing was, these phone calls came to people who were not in any way responsible for me. I had never, ever, listed their names as surety on anything. They were not my guardians. I had never given out their addresses or phone numbers on any document that might link me to them. Which lawyer/ cop/ enraged lawsuit-filing person mentioned in magazine articles would randomly call up acquaintances and colleagues? Anyone with any legal sense would know that it could result in a harassment and/or defamation suit faster than you can spell defamation.
Besides, who would even know whom to call? Who, except somebody who has access to the numbers I might have called regularly whilst I still used my old phone? Who, except somebody who was able to call me only after I began to use a Reliance phone once again?
See, I don't like to jump to conclusions. But I have a brain and I cannot help wondering... Why would someone have access to this information, unless it was given out by a certain tele-services provider?
So this time, I called the cops. The real ones. I was advised to make a note of the caller's number and to ask for ID, at least for the name of the police station he was attached to and his immediate superior's name and designation.
So I called back the 'cop' and said I would like a few details. Please. Also, I would like to know since when Delhi police personnel have starting doubling up as secretaries for Tees Hazaari black-coats.
The caller never called back. But you see, I still wonder... Who would do this, except somebody who had access to phone numbers I called regularly whilst I still used my old phone? Who, except somebody who was able to call me only after I began to use a Reliance phone once again? Who had access to both sets of information - new and old? I think about things like that, and it is a nasty thought.
You are not a pleasure to be associated with, you know. We don't owe each other anything. Well, you do owe me an apology, especially considering your people randomly send text messages even now, saying I owe them any number of sums ranging between Rs 700 and Rs 2000. But forget that.
Because it doesn't matter much - to you, or to me - if I don't use a Reliance phone. But one of these days, it will become possible to switch services without switching numbers. Or to switch cities without having to switch services. And the only thing that will ensure loyalty then is a certain amount of civility and respect for other people's time and money and privacy. You ever think about that?