(A belated addendum to this post)
Or: How banks go from deference to derision in the wink of an eye when they discover that you’re self-employed.
The story begins with a call from a bank where I have an account (one that was opened when I was working full-time). The representative offers me a new credit card. I say no, once, twice, but he persists. It’s a very simple process, he says. There are no hidden costs. Please take the card, sir. He doesn’t actually weep, but the general impression given is that his family’s future and well-being are contingent on my decision.
So I throw my hands up and say yes, after pointedly telling him that I’m never actually going to use this card or even carry it in my wallet. Soon someone arrives at my house to collect an ID proof and to get me to fill what has been described as “a very basic application form – it’ll take only a minute”. An hour later, I’m on page 27 of this basic form, scrawling out the names, diets, ailments, litter-box colours and collar sizes of every cat I have cohabited with since 1981.
When I write “Same as home” in the “Office address” field, a small frown appears on the man’s face. He doesn’t say anything at the time, but a few hours later there is another series of phone calls, and the tone this time is just as authoritarian and disdainful as the tone of the initial calls had been meek and imploring. Each of these conversations follows an interrogatory pattern. By the fourth call, I’m on auto-pilot.
“Mr Singh?” says a voice, “You just made an application asking our bank to give you a credit card.”
“No,” I reply, “I did not make an application. I merely broke down and signed an application form under duress, because your salesman vowed to hunt me to the ends of the earth until I gave in.”
“Anyway, sir,” the voice interrupts, “I need to verify some details. Can I have the name of the company you work for, and your office address?”
“There is no company,” I say mechanically, “There is no office. I am self-employed. I work out of home. I have lived with five cats.”
“I’m a freelance journalist!” I shout, “Freelance journalist! Why won’t you people understand this?”
“Just a minute,” says the voice, “let me note this down. Your company name is C Lal Associates?”
The conversation has now entered a surreal dimension, a place where the usual rules don’t apply. Having just read V S Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain, I know that the human mind searches for ways to fill gaps that it can’t deal with. But I still can't imagine where the man got the “Associates” from.
“Look,” I say, “Just send me the card. I promise I’ll even use it. But no more phone calls, please.”
“Sorry,” the voice says, “but we can’t process your application. The details are not satisfactory. Please try again after a few weeks.” He hangs up, leaving my Christmas stocking empty.
So I’ll try after a few weeks. As no wise sage said, there’s only one thing worse than getting what you don’t want, and that’s not getting it.