(Saga of an elderly couple on a certain day in the early years of the millennium)


Rangaswamy studied the keyboard of his new computer in detail. He then very carefully typed :
“7…6...3” and waited.

Nothing seemed to happen. He typed the numbers once again, and again… He then repeated the act faster and faster, but in vain. “Oh I am tired” he exclaimed. “Balaji and Lakshmi must have gotten tired of waiting for us. What to do now?” he wondered staring at the wall beyond the sleek monitor.
Rangasway’s impatience born of helplessness is clear. By him, his wife Rukmani is by contrast peaceful. The largish room of the lower-middle-class Brahmin family in Mylapore serves as drawing-cum-dining-cum-bedroom for the two of them, though there are other rooms in the ground floor flat. The computer, fitted with broadband internet, set up on one side of the room is the family’s latest acquisition.

Rangaswamy’s only son, Balaji and his family, left for United States two weeks ago on an off-shore assignment from his IT Company. The parents got so used to playing with and pampering their one-year-old grandson. Rukmani even thinks that her daughter-in-law coaxed Balaji to take up this assignment as she felt that the child is pampered too much at home. Rukmani has shown her displeasure to his son on this regard.

The new computer, complete with internet and Skype set up, is part of the compromise for Rangaswamy and Rukmani to be in regular touch with their son and family. Rangaswamy and Rukmani were in touch with their son and daughter-in-law in the US the previous night, the day when the computer was brought home. Everything went off well then. The computer arrived the previous day evening well before the pooja time. The technician, Babu, set up the computer and configured the modem for the internet. He then installed Skype and put a short cut on the desktop. Babu then crated a Skype account for Rangaswamy and added Balaji’s id. Babu was then ready for a demonstration. Before the start, Rangaswamy was particular of offering a small pooja for the new gadget. He finished that quickly and decorated the CPU and monitor with vermilion and sandal paste. Then both Rangaswamy and Rukmani sat attentively to see the demo. Bubu showed how to connect to the internet and launch Skype. He then connected his home, switched on video and spoke to his wife and young daughter. Rangaswamy and Rukmani were thrilled at the prospect of seeing and speaking to their son and grandson. But they had to wait till 10.30 pm -- another 3 hours -- as instructed by Balaji. Babu left the computer and internet on. He then instructed Rangaswamy how to launch Skype and dial Balaji. On that night Rangaswamy and Rukmani marvelled at what technology has brought them. They had a long Skype video call with his son, grandson and daughter-in-law. But tonight, he is a disappointed man, almost losing faith in the magic of technology.

“Why don’t you call the help line” Rukmani suggested.

Rangaswamy thought for a moment and then nodded in approval. He then reached for the helpline number and dialled carefully, checking each number. The speaker phone came alive.

“Welcome to Sky Network. Tamizhil todera enn onrai amurthungal. For English press 2. Hindi main jankari keliya theen dhabaye.”

Rangaswamy looked at Rukmani, who is patiently listening, and then pressed 2. The automated voice continued. “If you are a Sky Network customer, please press1. otherwise press 2.” Rangaswamy pressed 1 hurriedly.

“For billing related queries press 1. For technical assistance, press 2.” Rangaswamy pressed 2 and waited …

“ For dial-up connection press 1. For broad-band press2. For wireless broadband press 3.” Rangaswany hesitates for a moment between choices 2 and 3 and decides to try his luck and pressed 2.

“Please enter your 10 digit customer id.” The voice from the other end announced. By now Rangasway was boiling with impatience. “Now what’s that”… After much discussion between the two, Rangaswamy decided to search the invoice and related papers securely kept in a plastic folder. After a while he triumphantly announced “Here it is,” holding a receipt from Sky Network. He then turned to the telephone and entered the numbers. There was no further response and the telephone fell completely silent. Rangaswamy taped the phone a few times and then disconnected the line. Then dialled the toll-free number once again….


Life in a not-too-far-away suburb of the city was quiet at around 11 p.m. But the office of a medium-sized call centre was bustling with activity. The floor space was divided into several small cubicles. At the centre was a circular table with chairs scattered around it. Many young boys and girls, dressed casually roamed about. Some were at the cubicle speaking into the microphone set beside their computers. Some biting into a hotdog, or nonchalantly sipping a soft drink. Automated customer service announcements in several languages could be heard in the background….“to know your billing details press 4.
to speak to a customer service executive press 9….
Our customer service executives are busy at the moment, please hold the line…
your call is important to us….”
Two youngsters were having steaming cup of tea and engaged in a conversation at the round table in the centre…
“Oh its awesome yaar… what a stunning piece yaar.”

A third fellow joined them… “The nut seems to be ancient… hasn’t even heard of an i-pod... imagine!!!” he said condescendingly. “How is one expected to talk to such relics and fix the gadgets on-line?” let me have a sip machaa… The three are obviously on a short break between their calls. They slipped into a conversation sharing the funnily-horrifying customer experiences they had with the strangers at the other end of the wire – most, according to them, are ignorant, many unreasonably angry and a few decent. At the other end is always an unhappy customer, who most often forgets that he is talking to someone in flesh and blood and not just to a voice. Their challenge then is to deal with all of them in a machine-like manner of politeness.

Suddenly a phone rang. “Charles that’s your call” announced a colleague.
“Oh Jesus… can’t I have a break….” He walked up to his desk and picked up the line.

“Good evening Mr Rangaswamy. This is Charles Ranjan, how can I help you.”

Profusely relieved at hearing a live human voice, Rangaswamy dived straight into his problem without bothering to exchange pleasantries. “My internet connection is not working… It was working fine yesterday night, but today when….

[This bloke sounds like another ancient character... My night is ruined…]*

As always, Charles found it a challenge to suppress his thoughts. Compelled by the demands of his occupation, he collected himself and continued ...“Can you please tell me your 10-digit customer id.’
Rangaswamy once again read out the numbers.
“Thank you sir. Can you please confirm your address” continued the emotionless, yet polite voice, almost machine-like.
“I haven’t told you my address yet” Rangaswamy said .

[ooohhh, go jump man]

“Yes Sir, but I need to confirm your address with our records here. Can you please give me your address?”
Rangaswamy read out the address and wanted to go straight into his problem…
“and your telephone number?” the voice asked.
Rangaswamy gave the numbers.
“Thank you for the information sir. What is the problem with your Sky broadband connection sir?” the voiced enquired.

* The bold words within square brackets are the thoughts of Charles.

“That’s what I want to know from you sar… the internet is not working. My son Balaji and Lakshmi must have given up on us… can you help us please” Rangaswamy pleaded.

[ahhhh… this oldie will finish me…]

“Sure sir. Please tell me what happened”

“Nothing seems to be happening… I switched on the computer. Waited for the Ganesha picture to appear on the screen. Then I went straight to Skype. But it did not work…”

[absolute idiot…]

“Sir did you connect to the internet? You have to click on the skynet icon to connect to the internet.”

“ Ha, yes. That is exactly when it showed the ERROR in a box. I then typed 763 several times but there was no use…”

[why should this nut type 763… Okay, to hell with it…]

“Okay Sir, can you check the modem light status.”

“Ours is an old house, the lights are not very modern…”

[aarrgh, someone kill me. Please!…]

“No, sir… I meant the lights on your m-o-d-e-m… the small rectangular white box… are all the small lights on… are they all green? Is one of them blinking?

“oh, yes, yes.”

[hell and heaven!]

“If the internet is still not working, switch off the modem and switch it on after three seconds. There is a small switch behind the modem.. press it hard and let go. Then all the lights will go off… and then switch it on after three seconds…”

After a few moments of confusion and consultations between Rangaswamy and Rukmani, the modem was switched off and then turned on.

“I have switched it on… but still no use…” Rangaswamy announced.

“Okay Sir… you can try restarting the computer… that is, switch off and switch on the computer again.”

“oh I see... shall I put off the switch?”

“No no, sir. First of all you have to close all the windows.”

“My windows?” Rangaswamy enquired.

“Yes, all of them.”

“Give me some time saar…” Rangaswamy said.

Rangaswamy got up and hurriedly went in and out of every room and returned panting.

“I have now closed all the windows. Ours is a small flat but there are still quite a few of them… if it were my ancestral home in Tanjavur, I would have died by now…”

“ oh errr… I didn’t mean that ... may I put you on hold for a minute… hang on”

Charles removed his headphone, hit his head and then chest with both hands and yelled “Will someone please save me from this. Good grief, I can’t take it anymore.” He then collected himself and put on the headphone once again.

“Sorry to keep you waiting… Well sir, listen carefully... In your computer, if any program windows are open, please close them. You will find a small “x” mark on top right hand side. Click that to close…”

“Oh, that! I know that… okay done”

“Okay sir, now to close down the computer, go to the START button at the bottom left and….”

“But why should I go to “start” to close down the computer,” Rangaswamy sounded curious.

[Go and ask Bill Gates…]

“That’s how it is sir. Go to START. Then click on RESTART and wait till the computer shuts down and restarts…”
“Okay, done… now I will wait for the Ganesha picture to come up…” Rangaswamy seemed to start enjoying the taste of technology.
Charles prayed in his heart for everything to become fine with Rangaswamy’s internet connection. The very thought of prolonging the call was nightmarish.

“The Ganesha picture has come up...” announced Rangaswamy cheerfully. His wife was on the floor sleeping.

“Good Sir. Now click on the Skynet ikon to connect to internet” Charles instructed.

“Okay….. my god, again that error message… shall I type 763?” Rangaswamy sounded enthusiastic.

“ But why sir… is there a password … Sir, can you read out the error message please.”


[Oh Christ!… to hell with this nut…]

“Sir please connect the internet cable to your computer firmly. Look behind your computer… push in the cable tightly… and check …

A few moments passed….and then suddenly the computer speakers came alive. “Appa, innuma thoongaliya… internetuku ennaachu….” Balaji and Lakshmi sounded very concerned, but Rangaswamy was very relieved and ecstatic to finally see them. “Amma wait panni wait panni toongituthu…” the conversation continued, while on the speaker phone the customer services executive’s parting lines fell on deaf ears…

“Thank you for calling sky network… Is there anything else i can do for you Sir…. Thank you for calling Sky Network. Have a good day…”

-jay menon