off the cuff

Can I please have some privacy?

I whispered my Pin and the shopkeeper shouted it back to me, and I foolishly nodded ...

17:29 August 29, 2017

‘What’s your name, phone number, age”? asked the chemist, filling out a prescription at a tiny pharmacy on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

“Why do you need my phone number”? I asked. “I do not have a phone,” I lied. “Why, my age. These are not controlled medicines?” I said grinning, not wishing to be too confrontational.

“I need it to give you a receipt”, he said, ignoring the aside about controlled drugs, as you can get just about anything over-the-counter in Indian pharmacies, from serious antibiotics that reduce your legs to jelly, to mind-bending drugs, without a doctor’s prescription.

“If I give you my phone number I will get flooded with spam,” I told him, parroting what my wife would tell shopkeepers in Dubai, who insisted she give her the contact number so that they can send her promotions and sales dates.

I remembered how I would get singing messages from a woman with a screeching voice from Delhi on the phone with the Indian SIM early in the morning, as I was sleeping in Dubai, asking me to buy sarees or a 2BHK in a posh locality of Gurugram.

“Never mind,” said the chemist impatiently, presumably thinking that this is a silly Non-Resident Indian (NRI) who has weird, “foreign” ideas. He had earlier asked me why there was no GST (Goods and Services Tax) printed on the medicine strip I had showed him that I had bought in Dubai.

I have found out that my fellow Indians do not have any concept of privacy and do not care if anyone violates their personal space. That’s why you have Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugging heads of state on his whirlwind tours, who usually seem to be amused and a bit taken aback.

Peering into the smartphone

During our recent foray into a mall, we asked a young woman some questions about the products on display and after answering, she started following us around the store.

We were used to that as salespersons in Dubai would do the same thing, but this woman was just a few inches away from us and was peering into my wife’s smartphone as my wife punched out an SMS.

When I looked at her disapprovingly, she came and stood very close to me and looked at me with big, round, black and blank eyes.

Then a shopkeeper at a grocery shouted at me, asking me the pin number of my debit card. There were five people next to me in the queue, who waited patiently as I spluttered.

The card machine next to the checkout guy was attached by a short wire and he could not hand me the machine to punch out my secret Pin, that the bank had warned me never to tell anyone. What about all those warning emails from the bank telling me to hide the keyboard while punching out my Pin at the ATM? I told myself.

The people in the queue were getting impatient while I tried to reach over the conveyor belt and touch the card machine, without any success. Then giving up, I whispered my Pin and the shopkeeper shouted it back to me, and I foolishly nodded, yes, looking around whether any of the other shoppers was taking it down.

“Have you changed your Pin?” asked my son when I returned home and told him about my adventure. “Oops, no,” I said and frantically logged on to the bank website as the power went off, taking down the WiFi.

Recently, the Indian central government’s move to link millions of citizens through an ID card got a bit of a setback when the country’s top cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s personal details were leaked online by a government agency.

He is a cheerful guy who smiles a lot, but his wife got cheesed off and wrote a complaint to the IT minister.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. You can follow him on Twitter @mahmood_saberi.