Ringtones of Misery | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 09, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:45 PM, February 09, 2019

Ringtones of Misery

It's three in the afternoon. I have just retired from my routine lunch. As I settle down to relax with the day's newspaper and a bit of a shuteye, my mobile gives me a rude startle. Being someone whose occupation demands connectivity, I need to receive every call, and so I do.

Voice from the other end: “Hello Sir, I am Simi. Are you Mr Dr …?”

Further to my puzzled affirmation, she then gets more cordial. “Sir, how are you? Hope you are doing well.”

While I am running my fingers over my receding hairline trying to figure out where I may have met this lady, she pops up the purpose of her intrusive call, “Sir, I am from Bongka-Bangla Real Estate, we have a property at tinsho feet, three katha, five, ten...”

I tell the lady I am not interested and press red on my cell phone. I think that perhaps the self-imposed anger therapy is working after all.

At a restaurant while mingling with friends over dinner, a call interrupts the punchline of a joke I have rehearsed in private for such gatherings for months. It's not Simi, but one Srabonti. She represents a leading developer company and would like me to purchase a spacious apartment overlooking the “serene” Dhanmandi Lake. The noise of Rabindra Sarobar is now augmenting the hullabaloo of our group's conversation.

I want to tell her: “Dear Srabonti, I already live in that area for several years now, (ahem) in my wife's inherited apartment and that I have no money to purchase even another garage.” But, manage to utter between my soup and butter that I am not really interested. “And please do not call me again,” I say rather sternly before returning to my buddies with a smile. Friends who heard the last line over the clatter of other diners thought it was my missus.

2 AM. A decade ago, I would be switching on to watch the Real Madrid-Barcelona clash on TV. But, I have sneaked into bed, not trying to disturb the early-to-bed wife. As I tuck in the last bit of the mosquito net, the mobile jumps up. They do sound horrendous at that hour. You guessed right, the mobile was on the night table. I get out. My wife moves. Danger signal number three.

The caller this time is a gentleman or whatever remains of him. Shhh... I hush him. He says a surprised “Huh?” before narrating that he is peddling an insurance plan headquartered in the States. I cannot shout at him, and he knows it. My wife flipped over and was back sleeping. I whisper: “Listen, I don't care whether you are Trump's cousin or Hilary's. Never, ever call me again. My wife will kill you.” She heard the last bit and turned back, suspicious about the caller, obviously. I save my life by pretending I was having a nightmare.

Next morning at late breakfast table, it's Shamsul Alam from a finance company. Oh! I can see him smiling at the other end of the information highway. It seemed he had already had his breakfast. He was so courteous. Do I want to deposit money at their very attractive rate of 12.22 percent? My mind is pendulous between halal, haram and boiled eggs.

“Mr Alam”, I am now deep into my yolk, “even if I ever make a lot of money, I assure you I shall never ever invest in your company. I shall spend half of it in telephony calls to you and your fiscal gurus at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and in between.”

Soliciting custom over mobile phone has become an outright nuisance. They intrude into our office work, home privacy and personal time at their chosen hour, most usually unearthly. They cause disruption to peace of mind by touting their product without any assessment of my requirement.

It is not possible to totally ignore calls from unknown numbers because some business and profession thrive on new connections and social networking. What, if it were a patient? What, if it was some accident at a construction site? What, if a daughter or a son (from an unsaved number) were calling to inform about their father's, my friend's cardiac arrest? That is why all calls should be received. But, many such callers pursue a naked commercial agenda, to push their service and merchandise.

Calls soliciting business waste valuable time that otherwise was meant for urgent matters. Someone is calling a doctor for an emergency, but the doctor is not receiving the call apprehending it might be Simi. By ignoring a call from an unknown number, we may be choosing between life and death.

It is not wrong to advertise one's line of business and/or expertise, but doing so unannounced at any ungodly hour is offensive intrusion into the privacy of the receiver. Such nuisance must stop, if necessary by a public litigation against such unwarranted activity.

I am aware that it's their job, and not the fault of the callers. I have therefore advised a few of them to please, please tell their bosses to put an end to unsolicited calls because it is not helping their business.

They can send emails, but some punters may be perturbed by that too. They do WhatsApp, which is also a form of invasion into privacy. They have been sending text messages, for which I have had to silence notifications.

Let them mail leaflets, or sneak them under the door or in the folds of a newspaper. They can stick posters on their own walls; their bosses are rich enough. They can advertise in newspapers and magazines, put up billboards, and use LED hoardings on pavements. They can organise a band party and wear silly clown attire.

For my wife to get some sleep, for me to put my therapy into practice, and for peace to return, these senseless calls must end. For instance, this Valentine's, I am not having any dinner. I have already received so many text messages from promoters, banks and mobile networks that I have no appetite.


Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising architect, a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.


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