Bothersome buzz

February 21st, 2012

Some days back I had a blast from the past. And it did not bring with it any sense of nostalgia. Only horror. The phone beeped to say that I had a message. As I unsuspectingly entered the inbox, this is what jumped out at me:

“Ultimate hair loss treatment. Organic hair oils wid (sic) magnetic formula for baldness, dandruff, hair loss, insomnia. Instant results guaranteed.”

In one grammatically-challenged sentence, the bliss of the last few months was shattered. I had quite forgotten about telemarketing SMSes and their nuisance value. Since September 2011, when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) enforced strict regulations on unsolicited telemarketing calls and SMSes, such calls and messages had practically disappeared. The order had brought instant relief to over 85 crore mobile subscribers across the country. It was wonderful.

In hindsight, I should have known that it was only a matter of time before the enterprising Indians with their repertoire of hair oils that can spring a fertile jungle on a bald patch, magnetic earrings that can make you lose 20 kilograms in a month or quick courses that can make you a better orator than Obama found a way around these regulations. Trust the Indian jugaad to open new gateways.

The earliest warning that the telemarketers weren’t about to throw in the towel yet came in the form on an SMS from a number prefixed with a code that clearly wasn’t from anywhere in India. Of course! They were transmitting the messages via an SMS gateway from UK to skirt the regulation. All they had to do was send an email through a particular email address and have it arrive as a text message on someone’s phone. It was so foolishly simple to use this mail-to-SMS gateway service – number@SMS-gateway. Our determined telemarketing companies made the most of it.

And now, even this front has been dropped. Having tested the waters and having emerged unscathed, the telemarketers are almost back to the frantic pace they maintained before they were abruptly brought to a halt by spoilsport Trai. In a span of 24 hours, I have received about nine SMSes about dream houses at dream locations. Here’s a sample:

“Gurgaon property ¾ BHK with 7 acre park.”

“Dream houses at Noida near proposed metro. Construction in full swing.”

“Farmhouse with cricket stadium, swimming pool and government electric Phase II launch.” (Duh!)

“Luxury apartments from co-developers of an xyz mall in Delhi.”

“Property bhi aapki, rent bhi aapka.” (Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?)

As expected, real estate agents/promoters are taking the lead, yet again, in bombarding one and all with their “do-not-miss-this-opportunity” claims. But they aren’t the only ones. Along with the property SMSes, these are some others which I have had to suffer in a day.

“Scared of Facing d Public? Public Speaking, Prsntation Skills. Cours startng in Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad and Gurgaon.”

“Reduce fat up to 5 kg pm (100% result). Ayurvedic product or money back. Gurantee no excise [they obviously mean exercise] no side efeect (sic).”

“Free workshop on Image Management and Body Shape Analysis”

About two years ago, in August 2010, an unsolicited telemarketing call to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had sent the then telecom minister, A Raja, swinging into action to put a lid on such an invasion. The minister was in a crucial meeting with political leaders to resolve the standoff over the price rise debate in Parliament when he got a call from a finance company offering him a home loan. A visibly angry Mukherjee said, “No, no, not now. I am in a meeting” and then cut the call. He then told the curious gathering that he received about four or five such calls every day.

About a year after that fateful call, Trai issued the regulations and the telemarketers went into their shell. There they sat, biding their time, waiting for things to cool down. And now they are back. I wish one of them would call Mukherjee again. The timing is perfect. Budget is round the corner and he’s bound to be as busy as can be. One home loan or property sale phone call will be enough to ignite his famous temper. And peace will prevail once more.

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