Cell Phone

I finally have an Indian mobile phone number. There are a couple of things about phones in India.

Firstly, Indians use the American term “cell phone” and the British term “mobile phone” interchangeably. I’ve started calling it a cell phone again after years of using the German word “handy”. Handy could be regarded the queen of the “Denglish” words, being an English word incorporated into German and then used as a noun in a way that is guaranteed to confuse English speakers; but this blog is about those strange Indians, not those strange Germans. Secondly, everyone expects you to have a cell phone. They don’t expect you to have a land line, or if you do, they simply don’t care about it. So not having a cell phone is akin to having leprosy. You seem to need a cell phone to do anything.

Since I’m tired of paying €5/minute roaming charges to T-Mobile and I’m equally tired of having to work out a hackish solution to “what is your cell phone number Sir?”, I needed a local cell number. Phones can be either prepay or postpay, as in most other places. My initial plan was to get a postpay SIM for my existing cell phone as I was told that foreigners can’t get prepay SIMs. Unfortunately, settling on a house is taking so long (a post for another time) and I wanted to shake my leprosy. So plan B was a prepay card.

The interesting thing about prepay card in India is that foreigners aren’t supposed to have them, presumably because terrorists favor them. My driver hatched a plan. HE would get the SIM card for me. So we went to the shop together. You need a proof of address, two forms of picture ID and a passport photo and he brought these along. It was obvious to the guy in the shop that my driver was getting the SIM card for me (who is obviously a foreigner). He very exactingly made my driver go through the ID confirmation and sent him to go make a photocopy of his voter registration card and driver’s license. Then when all the paperwork was done, the shop owner handed me a stack of SIM packets to let me chose my phone number before putting it in the phone and activating it. The activation signal was supposed to come after a half hour and it never came, so we had to go again today and have them resend it.

The whole time, it was completely obvious that the SIM card was for me and the store owner did not give one hoot, as long as he was able to properly fill in the forms.

What was the point of this rule about foreigners and prepay cards again?


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