When my wife and I planned to travel, I went to the railway reservation office in the city to book our tickets. When I returned, I went to the supermarket to buy supplies and there I met my professor friend Raghavan. She was struggling with her shopping list and was a little worried. “Finding things on these shelves is very concerning,” he said. “They never label these things properly.”
“Let me help you,” I said and took his list. I found everything she wanted, put it all in her cart, and then grabbed the items on my list before heading to checkout. “I’m not used to shopping in markets anymore,” she said, lifting her shopping basket onto the counter.
“How come?” I asked.
“My wife buys almost everything online,” she replied. “There are many shopping sites. And you?”
“Oh, I’m a regular here,” I said. “I know roughly where they keep things, so it’s very easy.”
“You should try shopping online,” he said. “We started during the quarantine period. It’s really convenient and you don’t have to leave the house.”
Until then, I was looking for the change in my wallet to pay for my purchases. He saw railway tickets folded into one of the compartments. “Are you going somewhere?” – he asked.
I answered “Yes” when I paid my bill in cash. “Wedding near Kochi.”
“Oh!” he said. “Why don’t you book your tickets online?”
“You know, I’m a little clumsy with these things,” I said, a little embarrassed.
“Darling!” he said. “My ten-year-old child can do these things easily. So why can’t you?”
“Every time I try, I have trouble,” I said. “I don’t know why, but I always get into trouble.”
“Look, let’s discuss this over coffee,” he said. We found a table at a nearby cafe and he asked, “What problems can you face when shopping online?”
“I can’t describe it,” I said. “I’m pissed off, that’s all.”
“Give me an example,” he said.
“We had unexpected guests for lunch yesterday,” I said, trying to recall the details of that day. “Six of them, all big eaters and all distant relatives, so I had to feed them. And of course, the two of us. I ordered four plates of butter chicken, twelve naans, four biryanis, two palaks…”
Ragavan cut me off more than the impatience in his voice. “It doesn’t matter what you want to eat,” he said. “What happened to the food site?”
“That’s what I want to tell you,” I said. “I placed the order and then put in my credit card details and everything and then I saw that the money had been taken out of my account but the food delivery website didn’t have the money. “He got stuck somewhere between the bank and the food court.”
“And what did you do?” – he asked.
“Well, I didn’t have time to cook,” I said. “I went to this nearby restaurant and got . . .”
“No, no,” he said, impatience returning. “What did you do with the money?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I had to go get the food.”
“Didn’t you go after the money?” – he asked in surprise.
“My wife did,” I said. “He told me he tried several phone numbers that led to voicemail. He had to listen to about 45 minutes of messages in English spoken with an accent he was sure no one anywhere in the world used. When he reached what appeared to be a human – or it could have been a machine with a Punjabi accent, he says, you can never be sure – he had to wait about ten minutes to confirm the problem because the internet was so slow. and then told him in a Punjabi dialect that the money would be refunded within three working days.
“So you got it back?” – he asked.
“Not yet,” I said. “That’s until tomorrow. I hope they ship it by then because my wife doesn’t want to suffer through any more voicemail accents. Similar things happen on shopping sites.”
“I don’t know why,” he said. “This is unusual. But let us see if we can fix your rail reservation system for you. Give me your phone.”
I meekly handed over my phone and he started playing with it. I walked over to sit next to him to see what he was doing. He never used a browser and a form he filled while asking me questions on some Railways website. At one stage it entered my mobile number, then the system asked for a password or something. “Give me a password,” he said, and I made one on the spot. He entered the password and then asked to confirm the password, which he did.
Then we waited… And waited and waited until finally we got this ominous message: “Question timed out. Try again.”
We tried again. Raghavan went through the whole rigmarole again, but when it was time for him to enter my mobile number, the system rejected him: “This phone number is registered. Use another.”
When I tried to login using my mobile number, it showed an error message: “Unknown phone number”. Raghavan finally gave in, scratching his head. “When I tried it, it worked perfectly,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” I comforted. “I am the one who is definitely in the situation. I’m used to it.”