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Monday 11 September 2017

# 52 - Confessions of a Serial Prank Caller - Part 3 (Conclusion) - Karma isn't a nice lady

Read Part - 1 here.

Read Part - 2 here.

I made my final comeback on 2nd July, 2005. How do I remember the date? Well, let’s just say that it was all over the news. 

While returning from college vacations, we got stuck at Surat on 2nd July, 2005.

Why?  You probably recall 26th July, 2005, the day when Mumbaikars were half expecting Noah's ark to show up somewhere in the city.  

Mumbai's distant cousin Surat was facing the same situation weeks earlier.  

Seven of us were stuck together, holed-up in a small room for three days - with little to do and even lesser to talk about, our only source of entertainment was All India Radio. 

Yes, it was bad. 

Luckily, we were getting cellular reception. 

I called up the customer care for my cellular service provider with respect to some issue, but me being me, I ended the call with, "bhaiya bahut bhookh laga hai, subaah se kuchh khaya nahin, ek pizza bhej dijiye na". O brother, I am starving and haven't had anything to eat since morning, please send a pizza".

There's apparently a Facebook group by that name (sans the ‘send pizza’ bit) that's immensely popular these days - some say it was started by the executive who had attended the call).  

The others found this quite hilarious and insisted that we do more calls. 

It was quite clever that way, calling up customer care people and pranking them. 

Sure, they had your phone number and knew your identity, but there's nothing wrong with asking questions of the moronic kind. I was already doing it in the classroom in any case.

What started with a random call in Surat continued well after we got back to college. 

And thus it began, all over again....


"Mujhe duniya bhar mein free mein call karna hai...wo wala recharge kara do." I want to make calls the world over for free. Please activate the scheme.

- I am sorry, sir, we don't have any such scheme at present.

- “Arre kya bakwas kar rahe ho, mera padosi ka beta Bablu ne uska papa ke liye yeh scheme laga diya hai...ab din bhar ISD karte rehta hai. Main kyun nahin kar sakta?" Don’t bullshit me, my neighbour’s son has done it for his dad. Now he makes international calls all day long. How come I can’t do it?  


"Sharam aata hai mujhe.” I feel ashamed.

- I am sorry Sir?

- “Every other brand has celebrities endorsing. Shahrukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor. You have a dog. Please do something about it, people are making fun of you."


"Oye, score kya hai bata na." Oye, tell me the score.

- Sir, to know the cricket score please SMS CRI to -"

- "Par usme toh paisa lagta hai. Tere saamne toh compute khula hoga na...bata na baby...acha chal itna bas bata de Tendulkar khel raha hai ya out ho gaya". That takes money. You have a computer in front of you. Come on baby, just the score. Okay, fine, just tell me if Tendulkar is still playing or is he out.

And so on...

And just like that, I was back. 

Sure, the jokes were limited since I had only my cell-phone service provider's customer care number to call up and I was nowhere close to my former glory, but it didn't matter. The new audience lapped it all up and offered their cell-phones to have the same calls repeated for other networks.

Post dinner was prank call time every night. All I had to do was put the phone on loudspeaker and call the helpline, and the followers couldn't get enough. 

My fan following was growing and from a humble 'couple of guys' my sessions were now witnessed by 10-12 people at any given time, there were more who wanted to be involved but my roommate was never the accommodating sorts.

It didn't take long for it to stop though.

It was supposed to be a routine call. 

All I wanted to do was ask the customer care executive to tell me how to increase the brightness on my TV screen (the call, as usual, had been placed to my network service provider).

On being told that he wouldn't be able to help me out and I should instead call up the helpline of my TV company (I had told him that the brand was "Shaitan Danger" and no manual was given) I retorted that they were customer care, and since I was a customer and obviously needed care, he was supposed to help me - no matter what the query.

The guy at the other end stopped talking, even as I increased my decibel levels and complained about how in the 21st-century people had stopped helping others. 

"Shut up you idiot". He said all of a sudden.

The laughter in the room died instantly. Everyone looked at me, how would I respond to this? 

Trying my best to retain my composure, I said, "This was a test call to judge the efficiency and patience of the Customer Care Team. You have failed. You are required to submit your resignation tomorrow morning."

"Shut up", he said again. 

I hung up.

Everyone started laughing again but it wasn't at the prank. 

They were laughing AT me. 

"Boy, you had that coming."

"Serves you right"

"Prank-call king my ass."

As one by one they left my room, I realised that they had never been fans and I had never been their idol. These guys weren't my followers, I was just an average guy who was funny for a while. 

It's been around 12 years since my last prank call. It's pretty safe to say that I am not going back to that habit. 

But bear with me, there's still a wee bit left of my story.

Around four or five years ago. I got a call from my "bank".

I was told that my credit card points were expiring, and was asked if I would like to redeem them for cash or get gift vouchers.

"Show me the money", I said. 

I was asked to confirm my credit card number.

"Wait, isn't that confidential?"

The lovely voice at the other end laughed, and all seemed right with the world again. "Siiiir, that's public information. We need to verify that it's you."

"Of course, of course," I said, slightly embarrassed.

 My CVV number was next.

"Are you sure you need that?" I asked Aishwarya.

Yes, her name was Aishwarya, in my mind I saw Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the phone with me. 

"Yes Sir, we need to know the CVV in order to verify that it is you." The mild irritation I sensed in her voice made me immensely unhappy, the last thing I wanted to do was bother Aishwarya. 

Funnily enough, I never did get the cash-back, stranger still my credit card was used for some purchases that I didn't remember making. 

Aishwarya's phone was always switched off. 

The bank told me that it was a scam and my card was blocked.  

It took me time but I realised that I had become a victim of a prank call of the worst kind. The hunter had now become the hunted.

Present day.
Once a week some scammer tries his/her luck with me, I curse, plead, and occasionally threaten them, but it doesn't stop.

That's just the scams, there are genuine calls that come every day, some bank offering credit cards, some offering personal loans, competing cellular networks trying to lure me away, my own cellular network tempting me with data plans and free SIM cards, recorded voices of girls telling me that they are lonely and need a friend like me, etc. etc.

Just the other day, I got a call from some life-insurance guy.

"I am slightly busy", I had said. 

"Why?" he had asked. The question threw me off-balance, but he deserved a reply, I reckoned.

"Well, for one, I am in office, and on my way to a very important meeting," I said, more to myself than him.

But this guy was no novice.

"Is this meeting as important as your life? Sir, this is exactly why you need life insurance." 

I was reminded of myself. This guy had an answer to everything. Which meant that I had only one option left. 

I cut the call. 

Sure, everyone gets calls like this. But, I seem to get the wackier ones.

It's not a coincidence. I attribute it to Karma. I have disturbed a lot of people over the years, done some crazy shit, and what goes around comes around.

Hamare kismat mein champagne nahin, sirf pain hai.

- Rekha in ‘Bachke Rehna re Baba’ (2005)

But it was the call that I got last night that finally got to me. 
It made me wonder if it really was fate, or some other conspiracy altogether.

The call was from some unknown number, I picked it up and immediately heard giggling.

Multiple voices.

And then I heard it....
It sent a chill down my spine; because I had heard the words before, plenty of times, except I had heard them coming out of my own mouth. 

"Bhaisaab, mujhe bachaiye, mere kaamre mein ek bhoot hai". Save me. There’s a ghost in my room.

 [Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While certain institutions may have been mentioned, the characters and incidents are wholly imaginary.]

Monday 4 September 2017

# 51 - Confessions of a serial prank caller - Part 2 - Rise of The Machines

Read Part - 1 here.

“Bhaisaab, mujhe bachaiye, mere kamre mein ek bhoot hai.”  Save me. There’s a ghost in my room.

The response to this line has varied tremendously. 

Even at 1 am which was the default time at which the prank calls were made, some asked who I was and why I was calling them, some simply hung up, and some were curious enough to ask about what the ghost looked like.

And there were a few who didn’t say anything, but simply waited.
Even as I screamed, pleaded, and eventually made gurgling sounds, they waited, and after I went quiet, they asked, finally unable to contain their curiosity.

“Are you still there, or are you dead?”

At this point I used to giggle and do my utmost best to mimic the voice of a 5-year-old girl, simply saying, “you’re next,” I  hung up.

I soon became a sort of celebrity in the hostel.

People expected new prank calls and encouraged by their response. I gave it to them.

There was the classic:- “I am getting bored. Chal baat kar na.

You would be surprised at how many lonely souls I encountered who were willing to talk. Yes, girls too. Especially, girls.

A friend had actually dialled the number of his girlfriend on my behalf to see how she would react to that kind of a line, and after 40 minutes of intense discussion that was veering to, well, topics that didn’t please the friend, he cut the line.    

As demand increased, we had to make calls during earthly hours, which wasn’t possible from the hostel, so we started visiting STD booths (the fans were always ready to bear the expenses). Calls to known people also increased.

This was the golden period of prank calls.

I would sometimes call a random number, and asked the recipient to guess who I was. They would make a few random guesses, and I would eventually declare that one of their guesses was correct. I would proceed to state that I had lost the number of one of the other persons they mentioned and asked for it.

I would then call up the said person, and claim to be the person who had actually given the number. This would be followed by...well, samples follow:


“Tu c**** tha, c***** hai, aur c***** rahega.” You were, are, and will always be a ********.

“Bahut himmat juta ke phone kar raha hu, bas yeh batana tha ke tujhse pyaar karta hu main. Haan, main ek ladka hu aur tu bhi. Par pyaar ka gender ke saath kya connection?” I have finally gathered up the courage to say this. All I wanted to convey was that I have always loved you. Yes, I am a man and so are you, but what does gender have to do with true love?

“Tu last time jab mere ghar pe aaya tha, tab toilet use karke flush nahin kiya tha. Wo daag aaj bhi hai. Aake saaf kar.” The last time you visited my place, you forgot to flush. The mark is still there, come and clean it.

And so on...

Of course, I would be lying if I claimed that all calls were successful. Sometimes people figured it out, and I had to listen to words that would make Virat Kohli proud (I attribute this to the then newly released TV show ‘Roadies’).

Sometimes people couldn’t figure it out and still abused me.

The RJ calls were very popular as well. It basically involved me pretending to be a radio jockey and asking the unsuspecting recipient to request a song. I would then ask him to sing it out. Some enthusiastic people needed no encouragement and immediately proceeded with the latest chartbuster, others were shy and had to be coaxed and cajoled to sing out a few stanzas.

I would then shut them up and called them terrible singers.
Oh, and I may have thrown in a few cuss words here and there as well.

Whenever I am asked how is it that I have been so successful as a prank caller, I always tell them the same thing - you have to love the process, be thoroughly prepared, and never lose your cool. You have to have a good sense of timing, and should be able to foresee possible responses.  

But sometime in 2003 when I was at the peak of my creative abilities, technological advances almost put an end to my career.

More and more people were using cellphones instead of landlines. This wasn’t directly a problem as such because we were aware that people using mobile phones could tell the number from which calls were made, and I, as a matter of policy never called on/from cell-phones.

However, caller-ids on landlines were proving to be troublesome. And one could never tell which landline devices had caller-id.

The risks increased, and STD booths were the only possibility now. And of course, Himanshu’s cell, the sole exception to my ‘no cell-phone’ rule.

But a brief background on Himanshu first.

Himanshu was a fellow boarder from a small town. His father was a doctor, his mother was a doctor, his brother was a doctor, his sister was a doctor, his grandfather was a doctor, I forget what his great-grandfather was, but for the time being let’s assume that he was also a doctor.

Now, Himanshu’s parents (and everyone else) wanted him to be a doctor, and he was forced to take up the biology stream in class 11.

There was just one problem, Himanshu had, without informing his parents, switched over to the Humanities stream.

You might think he did this because he didn’t want to become a doctor, you might laud him for his courage and self-respect to do his own thing, but the reason he switched from biology to humanities was far, far, more noble.

Humanities section had the highest girl to boy ratio, and being a teenager whose only interaction with a female till date, apart from his maa-bhen, had been his kaamwali bai, he jumped at the opportunity.

Long story short, whenever we had to make an urgent prank call (yes, there is such a thing), and for some reason we couldn’t access a phone, we rushed to Himanshu.

- "Hand over the phone, boy.”
“Please don’t do this....the SIM’s registered in my uncle’s name.” 
“Okay then...let’s see how your dad feels about your bright prospects in the humanities stream. You know that we have his address.”
“Here you go...balance pura khatam mat karna”.

But all good things come to an end.

It was supposed to be a routine prank call, dial a random number, ask politely if the receiver’s daughter was there, and see where it goes from there.

It was 11pm, and Himanshu handed over his phone without much fuss.

A man who picked up the phone on the third ring. He seemed fifty-ish.

- “Hello uncle. Zara apni beti ko phone dena.” Could you please hand over the phone to your daughter.
-        -   “Kisse baat karni hai?” Whom do you wish to talk to?
-          - Aapki beti..” Your daughter.

A slight pause, and then the said daughter said “hello?”.

Now as a veteran, I should have known this, the thing with female voices is, you can’t really tell the age.

- “Kaise ho?” How are you?
  “Aap kaun bol rahe ho?” Who is this? 
“Bhool gaye na? Bhool gaye wo beete hue pal...bhool gaye wo haseen mulaakatein”
Have you forgotten? Forgotten the past so easily...forgotten the beautiful time spent together.

She let go of the phone and told her father, “Papa, it’s him again.”

And before I could realise what was happening, the papa was on the line again.


Needless to say, I hung up immediately, went to Himanshu and handed over the phone. He looked pleased, having gotten the phone back so soon. His happiness was short lived though, he came running to my room within five minutes. His phone was ringing.

“What have you done? Who the fuck did you call? I am getting a call from this number, and the guy says he is gonna kill me.”

We didn’t pick up the phone.

But he kept calling, and calling and calling. 
Throughout the night, the next day, the day after that.
Himanshu finally switched off his phone and threw his SIM away.

We lived in terror, half-expecting cops to show up any minute and put us in jail; every time someone called out my name, I had a mini heart attack. Seventy-three percent of Himanshu’s hair turned grey overnight.  

All my disciples and associates abandoned me, lest they be dragged into what was being referred to as the “Call-gate scandal of 2003”.

Nothing actually happened though, but I had had enough with this prank call business.

School got over and I went to college.

No one knew about my past, I didn’t mention it. I had become just another guy; my gift - rusting for want of use.

In the meantime, cell-phones became ubiquitous and I told myself that this was it, I couldn’t prank call anyone even if I wanted to.

As you may have guessed, I was wrong.

I made my final comeback on 2nd July, 2005. How do I remember the date? 
Well, let’s just say that it was all over the news.

To be concluded in the next part....

[Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While certain institutions may have been mentioned, the characters and incidents are wholly imaginary.]