The Missed Call: India’s Lifeline

sandeep-sir-284x300By Sandeep Sahu

I seriously doubt if Sunita (name changed) has ever made a call on her mobile phone. Every time she makes a call, it’s a ‘missed call’, the Great Indian Innovation. For some reason which I am yet to figure out, her particular brand of missed call would be so brief that bat an eyelid and you would actually ‘miss’ it! Just a single tinkle of the Hello tune which, if you are not close enough or attentive enough to your mobile phone, you are bound to miss. But you are not only expected not to miss the solitary beep, but call back within minutes, if not seconds. And once you call, she would just not stop. An average conversation with her would last between 25 to 40 minutes. The cost is all yours and the pleasure all hers! Thoroughly disgusted with this irritating habit of Sunita, my wife stopped responding to her missed calls. Lo and behold, the calls simply stopped coming! Much to the relief of my wife, I must add.
The ‘missed call’ – and not the Indian Rail or India Post – is the real lifeline of India. The range of uses it is put to is truly breathtaking. You are waiting for a car. The driver gives you a missed call. You know that he has arrived and rush to the gate. If that sounds a little too elitist, let us think of a more ‘aam admi’ example. The neighbourhood rickshawallah who ferries your child to school gives a missed call and you realize it is time for your child to rush out. You get down from a bus and give a missed call to a dear one and he lands there in minutes to pick you up. I have absolutely no doubt that every reader of this piece can, from his or her own experience, list dozens of ways in which the missed call is used.

The extensive use of the missed call is based on sound economics and practical sense. After all, why do you need to spend, even if it is only a few paise, when you can get what you want with just a missed call? No wonder users of such need-based missed calls make the overwhelming majority. But there are also those who use the missed call not to save their money, but that of others. Like this Good Samaritan friend of mine, who has asked his office peon to give him a missed call whenever he needs to talk to him – to save a few paise from the mobile bill of his peon!

But when it comes to making creative use of the missed call, you have to hand it to the new age youth. Some time back, I was aghast to hear that a 20-something youth has had some 10-12 affairs – all born out of missed calls (or responding to missed calls, to be more precise)! If the guy who narrated this to me is to be believed, there are apparently hundreds of young boys and girls scouring the air waves through the proven and much travelled path of the missed call in search of a virtual affair that may or may not transform into a real affair. I would have dismissed the whole story as hogwash had it not been for a report that I had read in a local newspaper a few days before. A young couple had fallen in what has come to be known as ‘missed call love’ and come to Bhubaneswar to marry. The marriage solemnized (at a temple, where else?), the couple stayed in a lodge for their ‘honeymoon’. On the fourth day, the boy told his newly-wed wife his mother had fallen sick and he had to rush home. He promised to return by evening, but never did.

Desperate calls by the wife to the number that had been instrumental in the birth of their love affair repeatedly elicited the ‘switched off’ answer. Shattered at this breach of faith, she lodged a complaint against her four-day old hubby with the Mahila Police station and that is how the whole thing came to light!

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For every single way of using the ‘missed call’, there are at least 10 different ways of misusing or abusing it. A friend’s wife had a harrowing experience for about a week after she committed the cardinal mistake of calling back on receiving a missed call on her mobile phone. The voice at the other end belonged to a young man, who began pestering her with his profession of love through a dozen missed calls every day without quite realizing that the lady he was wooing was old enough to be his mother! Her husband, however, spoiled the fun ending the Cupid-struck boy’s dalliance with a mouthful of the choicest swear words one day!

Personally, I have never really been a big fan of the whole business of missed call. To be honest, I positively detest it. But I shudder to think about the day when the missed call would become chargeable. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the whole nation would be up in arms like never before, not even during the all too brief euphoria of the Anna Hazare movement a few years ago. That is the reason successive governments, including the incumbent one, have never paid any heed to the persistent – and some would say perfectly legitimate – demand by telecom operators that they should be allowed to bill customers for missed calls. In a country where governments have been known to fall because of a rise in onion prices, this is one potato too hot for any government to handle!