Hyderabad connection

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on April 18, 2021

It starts with the lack of new email messages: A sudden silence from my personal world. It’s a mellow Saturday afternoon. I’ve met my week’s deadlines and am not yet fretting about new ones. I glance at Facebook, and see all the same posts from the morning. I’m not worried. It happens now and then. I look at Words With Friends to see if my sister has played her turn ... and no, she hasn’t.

Hmmm, I shrug, it’s just one of those days. So I do my laundry, check the post box for mail, make myself a coffee, read the latest issue of The New Yorker. I don’t allow my electronic devices to squeak when I get email. So, unless I look for them, I won’t know if I’ve got any. When I check, there’s still nothing new. And the same is true of the other two sites: No updates. Yes, of course I’ve looked for the little triangular “fan” which tells me whether or not my Internet connection is on — and it is.

Gradually, the boring truth stares me in the eye: Something More Fundamental Is Wrong. I hate discovering that anything needs fixing. I believe that, so long as I wash my dishes as soon as I’ve used them, make my bed the moment I wake up and brush my teeth twice a day, I have earned the right to have gadgets that will work politely and without fuss. Because of this wholly erroneous belief, it always takes me twice as long to even begin to think of what needs to be done to fix a problem.

In the case of the Internet, the only possible fix is to hunt for and call the company’s 800 number. After surviving the ritual torment of speaking to a robot, I am connected to a friendly young man with a noticeable Indian accent. “Hello! Please tell me how I can help?” I can hear from his voice that he’s grinning from ear to ear. I immediately guess what the reason is: He’s seen my name and therefore knows that I’m a fellow South Indian. For the first five minutes of this conversation, I maintain decorum. “My Internet connection has stopped working,” I say in funereal tones and describe the symptoms: Visible fan, but no updates.

“Yes, Miss,” he says, “there’s a problem in your area…” Whereupon I immediately lose composure and whoop with delight. “Oh GREAT! Meaning it’s not a moral failure on my part, but merely some miserable mechanical glitch?” Naturally I use more appropriate language. But from this point on, we both throw off all restraints and have a jolly old strangers-across-the-oceans chat! Huge fun!

We spend 16 minutes longer on the phone than is considered healthy for call-centre operators. He tells me that he’s in Hyderabad and that this is the nicest call he’s had all month. I commiserate and wish him all the best. Then I say goodbye and disconnect forever.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on April 18, 2021

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