I’ve owned a cell phone for as long as I can remember. From the previous century, actually.

It went from getting no calls (back in the late 90s, when it was very expensive and clunky to own and operate a mobile phone) to a few calls from friends and families as the century turned the corner, to getting spammed all day and all night long by Nigerian princes and English lords.

The cell phone became as important to me as my heart beat. Even more, come to think of it, because with a cell phone you can dial an emergency number to keep the heart beating, but without one, the heart can be rendered useless pretty quickly.

I believe texting was born in Bangalore. I remember making a visit to New York in the early naughts, when no one had heard of SMS. But pretty soon text messages gave birth to a whole nu language and people developed dextrous thumbs.

The cell phone companies made a ton of money by charging you for calls, roaming, horoscopes, ring tones and other distractions. You paid up willingly, because as I said a minute ago, it was as important to have a working cell phone as it was to have a working heart.

But connectivity came at a price. It added another 10k to your monthly bill, and if you had kids, well you just multiplied. Pretty soon you became dependent on Vodafone, Airtel, Spice, Reliance, Tata and other service providers, who weren’t always providing services they claimed they would provide when you signed up and paid a deposit.

Then came the smartphone. Life became 100% better. Games, movies, emails and more.

The bill got larger and larger.

But then along came wifi.

I had once complained about wifi, and how in order to have wireless connectivity in our house, the walls pretty much had to be torn down and put back together. Oh ok, I exaggerate a bit, but there was a huge mess for a few days.

It was worth it.

Everyone in Bangalore (and around the world) did the same thing. Walls were busted in cafes, hotels, airports, subway stations, homes, schools, colleges and wires were laid down so people could connect wirelessly with their phones. I’m a clunk when it comes to understanding technology but I like using it.

You paid for wifi if you owned the establishment (our house, in this case) but could generously offer it free to guests. A bit like buying booze and inviting people over to drink it, so you don’t have to sit at home all alone, being bored.

Many commercial establishments soon realised that providing free wifi meant people would hang around more.

Then along came Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, Jaan Tallinn, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström in 2003, whose names you don’t need to know how to pronounce. It’s enough if you can say Skype. Followed by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 with Facebook. And Jack Dorsey’s Twitter in 2006. Brian Acton and Jan Koum’s WhatsApp in 2009 and the latest entrant, in 2010, Viber.

Not to mention Google and Yahoo and well, if you can remember it, Bing. All of which can be accessed without paying a cellphone provider a single rupee (or dollar or euro) while enjoing a cuppa or steina, depending on the time of day or night.

Which brings me to the reason for this tale.

My phone doesn’t work.

Airtel, my service provider disconnected the service because I wanted to switch the billing from my company to my personal account. I had assumed someone would type ‘transfer’ and hit ‘enter’ and get a cute emoticon waving ‘thank you’ for their troubles and I’d be back on my phone. But it was not to be.

It’s been two full days and I still get the ‘no service’ message on my phone. I’ve tweeted, emailed, called, visited and harassed the Airtel people who are very sweet when they say, ‘two hours more, madam.’

Time obviously takes on a different meaning in a cellphone company. But, before you think I’m complaining here, I’m not.

This is a longwinded letter of gratitude to Airtel, for showing me that life is quite peaceful and fulfilling no cell phone service.

I have visited many new cafes and restaurants (that offer free wifi) and enjoyed their delights.  I’ve looked out the window as we drive along the streets instead of texting and playing games. As a result I’ve noticed new stores where I can buy new stuff. I like shopping. I understand the Metro offers free wifi, I think I may try it. I know the airport does. Maybe I’ll take a trip.

About the only thing I miss is my ring tone – if you listen to it, you’ll maybe understand why: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTP4hZRFsUo

Oh and one more thing,  if you want to find out where there’s free wifi in Bangalore, here’s a site. It could do with a little help, adding more locations, but it’s definitely a good start. http://www.wificafespots.com/wifi/city/IN–Bangalore

Meanwhile, as I wait for my phone to get connected (or not) if you’re a friend of mine, catch me on FB. If you’re not, even if I’ve won 500 million euros, I’m afraid I can’t be reached.

This article appeared in BangaloreMag, 29 Aug, 2013; 


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