Over breakfast, Vinaya, our interviewer in Pune, and Puja were discussing mobile connections when Puja declared “I just don’t do prepaid anymore.” Everyone at the table laughed, so Puja suggested that she could discuss this topic in her interview, because she had very strong opinions about the subject. She ended up talking about not just mobile connections, but also the way her life has changed over the years with the advent of technology.
Read on to hear about Puja’s relationship with mobile phones in two countries…
Puja Lalwani, 30 years, Editor, Pune
Interviewed by Vinaya Kurtkoti
Why did you decide to give us an interview on this topic?
(Laughs) Are you going to put “laughs” in square brackets?
I don’t know, we were just having a conversation about prepaid and postpaid numbers and data and things like that, so I just thought that it would be cool to offer my opinion on this.
So, you said you have some stories about prepaid and postpaid and how it has affected your life.
(Laughs again) First of all, I got my mobile phone much later than everyone else. All my friends already had phones.
How old were you?
Fifteen. I know, that’s earlier than all of you guys I guess, because all of you got it in the first year of college, right? But in Dubai, things are different, you know. So the kids there already had a phone from ages 12 and 13, and I finally coaxed my mom to buy me one when I was 15.
Which brand was it, do you remember?
One step above 3310, but I still liked the 3310 more. This one was just slightly sleeker than the 3310. So, I got my first phone and my first number, which I still remember. And I had limited usage, you know, like, my mom would do one recharge and say that this has to last the entire month. And if I finished it I had to just stay without connectivity. But even then, she would give me some balance because I needed to contact her.
How did access to SMS and calling change your life?
Oh my god, I used to text people all the time. And there was this guy I had a crush on… I used to text him and talk to him all the time. That used to be a lot of fun. But all my other friends I used to talk to on the phone only, because I don’t know, back then talking on the phone didn’t seem like such a big problem as it does now. (Laughs)
We used to call each other and talk for hours and then meet, go out together and then play basketball and things like that together. I used to MSN and text this guy a lot.
When you started with SMS, did you start speaking in SMS language?
(Laughs) no, so, SMS had that predictive text thing going on, right? T9 dictionary. The truth is that I didn’t know how to use it. I used to be like, I don’t know what’s going on, so I’d switched it off. But I used to write in full words. I may have fallen for the “u” and “TC”, but mostly I never spelt life as “lyf” or what you doing as “wud”; I never spoke like that. But then a friend showed me how T9 works and it changed my life. It was the best thing ever. I don’t know why anyone would want to use SMS lingo when predictive text just gets everything right. Like, even if you want to, it doesn’t let you use such kind of language. So I don’t know why you would want to use it; it makes no sense to me.
Which phone did you get after that?
I believe it was a Motorola handset. It was my mother’s. And then I made her buy a new phone and I took her phone.
When was this?
After I finished my 12th board exams. Actually, you know what, I made her buy me a very expensive phone – a flip phone. Nokia-ka, it was really fancy. But then I moved to India to study and I thought having such a fancy phone in college was not very nice. So I switched phones with her. I gave her the fancy phone and I took her handset.
These were all prepaid phones?
Hmm, I moved to postpaid a year ago. Before that it was always prepaid. I thought it was easier to use prepaid because there were no taxes. I mean, no additional expenses. In postpaid you’ve to pay taxes after the specified amount. I used prepaid for a very long time, but it was very irritating when my balance would get over. Like I was driving or something and I couldn’t recharge, so I prefer the postpaid option.
So now you pay taxes every month?
Yeah, I do. But it’s still cheaper than prepaid. Like, it’s worked out cheaper than prepaid for me because I’m getting a lot of benefits for being a postpaid member, like double the data and unlimited calling for a small amount, for which I used to pay a lot of money earlier. It’s a different thing that I don’t make many calls nowadays.
When did you go from calling friends all the time to not making too many calls?
Since I took up a job at Buzzle and I met my friends there, we used to only text each other. We never called and spoke to each other. And I don’t think Sujata (her closest friend) and I have ever had an important conversation over a phone call. It’s always been over text or in person. With Tulika (another close friend), I have spoken on the phone and had important conversations, but not with Sujata. That’s because Tulika sucks at texting. She’s so dry in her texts that I can’t deal with it. I tell her I’ll meet her and talk to her. I think this transition (from calling all the time to calling rarely) happened in 2010. But I still have some friends who insist on calling instead of texting and it kind of bugs me sometimes, because I think… why can’t we just communicate over text? But it’s not the same with those people, you know? Like, it’s more fun to talk to them over the phone than it is to text them. You get what they’re saying only when you talk to them over the phone.
Do phone calls make you uncomfortable?
Yes, they do. There are lots of silences in phone calls that I don’t know how to fill. I’m not very good at initiating conversation. I can listen, I can contribute, but I’m not very good at starting conversations. So I prefer texting. I’m okay with the gaps in texting. But while talking on the phone, it’s weird. Though recently I used to talk to someone on the phone with whom I didn’t have much to say. There would be lots of silences. But somehow, it was okay.
For how many years did you have prepaid?
I switched to postpaid in 2016 and I started using a phone in 2002. So that’s 14 years of prepaid!
Wow, that’s quite a change for you…
(Laughs) well, I have to say that I prefer the security of not running out of balance.
So are you ready to commit (to postpaid)?
I’m ready to commit to postpaid for life, yes. I can’t do prepaid anymore.
The customer care department of phone companies has always been a bitch to me. Do they value postpaid customers more?
(Another friend weighs in) As a prepaid customer, I can tell you that they value postpaid customers more.
Puja – Yeah, they do value postpaid customers more. I have got very good treatment as a postpaid customer from Vodafone. To be honest, I never had too many issues with prepaid. But whenever I spoke to them, I felt like their reaction was “yes, whatever”. But as a postpaid customer, I’m a privileged member and I’m part of the “Vodafone family”, so I’m spoken to better. I’m given a preference. Or maybe customer care has improved over the years? I don’t know.
Have you always used Vodafone?
No, I switched from Idea to Vodafone because I worked in a company where Idea didn’t get enough range. Idea’s customer care was really bad. The way they treat you in their stores as well as over the phone – they’re rude and unfriendly. Vodafone is generally better. Some people in the Vodafone store may be rude and indifferent, but they get the job done. I guess that’s what matters. It’s not like I want to friends with them anyway.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
This is so not relevant in this context. Ummm, I don’t know what love means to me. I’ve never thought about it. I think it’s just a place where you can be your uninhibited self, and allow another person to be that way too. I mean, this is regardless of your relationship with them: parent, friend, boyfriend, whatever. I mean, you have to basically give them the freedom to be as they are. You can’t not have expectations. Obviously, you have expectations from each other. You meet halfway to manage those expectations. I mean, I don’t think love is unconditional – at all. But there is a lot you can do when you love someone. There is a lot you would do when you love someone, rather than do it for some stranger. You would let go of a lot of inhibitions… I wouldn’t say make sacrifices, but make a lot of adjustments for them if you knew that this is worth the friendship or relationship.