This post marks the fourth anniversary of my lovingly cherished relationship with one of the most prominent organizations of Mumbai: MTNL. For the uninitiated, MTNL is this passionate, thoughtful, dedicated group of people who have been faithfully serving the citizens of Mumbai and Delhi over the years. Their major services include passionately digging up roads to put in wires, thoughtfully digging up roads to take out wires, dedicated-ly digging up roads to take out Airtel’s/Reliance’s wires, sending pan chewing assholes to your home to tell you that your telephone line is permanently fucked, charging you 250 bucks for conveying this message, and so on.
But the most romantic part of this relationship is how it all started. Sit back and grab something to eat as I reminisce the beautiful memories of the 4 golden years.
The Application Phase
Since the dawn of time, no living human has EVER got through this phase without a hitch. The Indian government has in fact announced a grand prize for any citizen whose application doesn’t get rejected in the first try – they will be awarded the Param Vir Chakra (posthumously, if that is the case) and felicitated on Republic Day. They would get to share the elephant ride with kids who have won the Bravery Award probably for passing their Board exams in the first attempt, and wave at the President who is blissfully sleeping on the chair.
The Reapplication Phase
So now, like the rest of us, you drag your sorry ass back to the MTNL office because your application got rejected due to any of the following reasons –
1. You used black ink, whereas only blue ink is permitted.
2. YoU DiDn’T FiLl ThE FoRm In AlTeRNaTiNg CaSe.
3. There was a slight crease on the form. How can a CAT scanner or a Large Hadron Collider process your form if it has a fucking crease on it?
4. You didn’t sign it using the blood of 666 fallen angels.
5. Because kuch kuch hota hai asshole, tum nahi samjhoge.
6. You are supposed to fill the form only in Sanskrit, Hebrew or Ancient Gaelic.
Raise A Hue And Cry Phase
By this time, you feel like you’re in a Christopher Nolan movie, getting lost at every turn, unable to figure out what is going on, losing your grip on reality. Finally, the confusion and the anger get the better of you and you scream out in frustration, only to be chucked out by the security.
Regret The Previous Phase And Get Down On Your Knees And Beg For Mercy Phase
MTNL staff show no mercy. You pleas for help will be laughed off with a Nazi-Taliban-esque grace.
Nothing Worked, So Use The Trump Card Phase
I remember the day back in December 2006 when my friends and I went to the MTNL office to personally talk to them about our pending connection. We were asked to meet a certain Fat Aunty about our problem.
Mrs. Fat Aunty was the branch-deputy-information-something-manager. In short, the person we were looking for.
We nervously entered her office and waited. She was talking to someone over the phone (what are the odds of that?!). 5 minutes passed with no change in status quo. 10 minutes passed and the impatience was growing. We politely cleared our throats to get her attention. She never even looked up at us. A few more minutes of audible throat-clearing yielded no results. We increased our pretend-coughing to the point that her colleagues suspected us to be Whooping Cough patients and started covering their faces, but Madam Fatass just continued to orally pleasure the phone.
Finally, some 450 hours later, she hung up. She motioned us to come over and take a seat.
“Problem?” she said.
My friend spoke rapidly: “Madam, we applied for an internet connection 3 months ago but still haven’t received a word from you… actually we needed internet ASAP to blah blah blah- ”
Fat Aunty cut in: “Not possible. There are about 85,588 people who are ahead of you.”
My friend was nearly in tears: “But but… it’s been 3 months…I have to…”
Fat Aunty: “NOT. POSSIBLE.” (makes a full stop with her eyes)
The other friend tried his luck: “Madam, please try to understand. We have been coming here everyday since the past 3 months. We are students-”
Fat Aunty scowled: “If you are students, you should go to college! Don’t hang out at MTNL office and complain about low attendance! This is not a youth hang out joint!”
(silence, crickets chirping)
I stood there, tongue-tied like a nervous boyfriend in front of a girl’s Hitler reincarnate mom.
My friend composed himself and tried again: “God hasn’t been too kind to us, Ma’am. We come here and stand everyday, sun or rain, summer or winter, weekday or weekend, in sickness or in health, with a bright hope, an undying belief that you would just look at us once and listen to our story. Look at us, Ma’am, we’ve been greeted with only withering bouquets of rejection every time. We are falling apart just like the plaster on the walls of this building. We have nowhere else to go, no one else to talk to. We are the middle children of history, Ma’am. No purpose or place.”
3 of her colleagues and 2 security guards had broken into tears.
My friend had nailed it. He had hit the second most vulnerable part of the female anatomy – her heart. We could see the sympathy welling up inside her. We had lived the dream.
“Arrey Ramesh, come here!” she yelled at the clerk.
“These 3 students need an internet connection urgently. How soon can it be arranged?”
He looked at her as if she had asked for his father’s hand in marriage. “You mad?!! No way… no more connections till the first bird chirps in autumn next year.”
Madam cranked it up. “Shut up! Don’t give me this bullshit. I’m not the general public. Get them a connection this week and if you dare say no…”
Ramesh gulped and murmured something under his breath and ran away. The 3 of us looked at Fat Aunty quizzically.
“And so it has been written,” she said with the mysticism of an Indian Yogi, “your internet would be active before this Friday.”
We immediately fell to her feet and cried, for our emotional rollercoaster was finally going to come to a stop.
Post Acceptance Installation Phase
True to Aunty’s word, a guy came to my place that week, armed with wires, CDs and the symbolic screwdriver.
15 minutes of sorcery later, he spat: “Installation complete. 500 bucks please.”
I asked: “Is the connection working?”
“No. It will work only after you call the customer support and ask to reset the password after which a virtual connection needs to be established after which an I.P. needs to be assigned after which you would need to prove that you are the son of the noblest blood.”
“And how much time will that take?”
“Should be done in 10 to 15… light years, I think. Now, the 700 bucks please.”
“You said 500 a minute ago.”
“Consulting charges extra.”
Post Installation Traumatic Stress And Eventual Suicide Phase
This is the time after the connection becomes active, when you start getting weird problems and such frequent disconnections that your life becomes an unending nightmare. You live in the paranoid fear that the internet would suddenly stop working one day and the visits to MTNL office would start all over again. You feel like a war veteran who has come back home after long years of conflict, but still hears the sounds of guns and bombs, cries of compatriots, horrors of the battlefield. You want to leave them and switch to another provider, but are left with no energy or guts to fall into the routine once again. So in the end, you quietly curl up in your seat and stare at the modem, clinging to a fleeting hope that the lights would keep on blinking, keep on blinking…