Are you an Airtel customer? Did you go in for a makeover (not plastic surgery) during the lockdown? Shaved off your hair or grew it to an absurd length? Changed the colour (anything was an activity in lockdown)?
And, by a stroke of bad luck, did something go wrong with your Airtel connection thereafter? Like a corrupt SIM (that happens if you didn’t know) that has to be replaced with a new one? Or anything that required you to go to the nearest Airtel centre?
“Thank you for calling Airtel but we regret to inform you that we cannot do anything to help you as our software refuses to match your current photograph with the one on your Aadhaar. (This is COVID-19 time and you are 55. You grew old and have grey hair and you even dared to chop it? Your fault. Pay for it. Go to the Aadhaar centre and update your card! Do we care if you are just another number in the COVID fatality list? We cannot give you a new SIM since you are not the person that our software knows. Because it is COVID time, we don’t do anything manually. I know you are the same person, but sorry. Period. In other words just f*** off old lady!)”
Well, that about sums up my experience of having the misfortune of a corrupt Airtel SIM. Countless visits to different Airtel centres (mind you, it is COVID-19 time and Pradhan Mantri says, “Jab tak zaroorat na pade, ghar se bahar mat nikliye”) drained of mental and physical energy, I emerged wiser. After being turned down at an Airtel Centre, I charged back home furious but enlightened. Went to the market, bought hair colour, dabbed it on my hair and went right back.
Phir kya hua? Jadoo! Jadoo!
Meri photu kheechi unhone! I even tilted my head a little as it was in the Aadhaar, took off my spectacles and posed.
“Madam, hamari taraf se approve ho gaya hai. Char ghante mein aapka SIM activate ho jayega.”
Sure enough, four hours later, my phone showed a signal instead of ‘No Service’.
Was I happy? No. I was only relieved. But yes, I was livid with rage because the grey crown in which I had started taking pride was gone. I was forced to change my appearance and compromise on my self-esteem.
Thinking of the people who might have or would face the same predicament, I decided not to let the matter rest here and take it to a logical conclusion. A late-night Tweet swung Airtel into action with a stock reply “regretting the inconvenience” followed by a routine phone call of “Madam, we will escalate your issue”.
Phir kya hua?
Silence. Raat gayi baat gayi.
But not for me. Some might just laugh off this experience but for me, it was humiliating. I felt totally trapped. I could not even port my number because for that it has to be functional. Getting a new connection would have meant spending more productive time in mailing banks, people and insurance companies.
By the way, I did heed the advice given at the Airtel Centre. I went to the nearest Aadhaar Centre (locating one that is functional is not easy, believe me). There, on a scrap of paper, I was given an appointment for October end, which was more than a month away on that day. The guy sitting there mumbled something about how much time it would actually take for me to get a new Aadhaar. But I didn’t wait to listen… I didn’t have the bandwidth.
Imagine, if I hadn’t got the bright (but regretful) idea of colouring my hair, I would have had to wait for months to get my number back by which time it would have been invalid.
I am in a strange predicament now. My hair is still black-brown. Will it go back to grey on time for my Aadhaar updation? If not, should I bleach (and subject myself to harsh chemicals) it before the D-day to have an age-appropriate Aadhaar for the rest of my life? I’d rather not. My scalp is already itching because of the black-brown colour.
Should I apply more chemical on my hair for a new Aadhaar card and an Airtel connection and thereby become a bona fide citizen of this country?