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Sunday, 5 August 2012



I am a British Subject, holding a British passport, but I needed an Indian 'sim' card so that I can make 'phone calls in India at a reasonable rate. My British 'phone provider assured me that if I were to use my British sim in India, I would be charged about 1.60 GBP per minute to make calls, and slightly less to receive them. With an Indian sim, the charges per minute are less that a British penny! So, with that in mind, I made my way by autorickshaw to Church Street in Bangalore, and took a ticket to wait in the queue at the Vodaphone shop.

I did not wait long to learn that I could buy a temporary sim card for less than 60 Rupees. All that I needed to do this was my passport and a passport photograph. I did not have the latter, but, I was assured, that would not be a problem. I was directed to a photography shop, EGK, opposite the Vodaphone office. After making my way past a dog lying asleep on the warm pavement, I descended the steps into the basement establishment, where I was greeted by an elderly gentleman, who had sold me a tripod many years ago, when his shop used to be on MG Road. Without delay, I was shown into a darkened studio furnished with photographic lights and an ancient looking padded stool. My picture was captured using a digital camera, and I was asked to return within 15 minutes.

To pass the time, and to satisfy one of my whims - browsing in bookshops, I made my way along Church Street to Blossom Book House. This magnificent establishment has three floors, all crammed to the gills with books. The first floor is my favourite. It is overflowing with novels. Some of the books are new, but many of them are second-hand, or just aged because they have been on the shelves for too many years. I was delighted to find a novel written by Carl Djerassi (the inventor of the oral contraceptive). I had seen a couple of plays written by this remarkable scientist, but did not know that he had written a novel. After choosing another 3 books, two of which were written by the recently deceased Gore Vidal, I returned to the photography shop to pick up my mugshots. The dog was still lying asleep on the pavement, but my pictures were ready.

Armed with my new photographs, I returned to Vodaphone. And that is where the 'fun' began. After filling in an application form that needed to know, amongst other things, my father's full name, I handed over my British passport in order that my details could be photocopied. Unfortunately, the photographs in recently issued British passports are covered by a patterned plastic film, which, it turns out, makes the photocopying of the photograph impossible! This caused no end of consternation amongst the young men working in the shop. They were able to photocopy the picture on my visa, but the best that they could manage was a fuzzy, almost recognisable, copy of my passport photo. When I asked whether this would matter, they answered that it was possible that the Ministry of the Interior, or whoever it is that deals with telephone security, might object to the indistinct nature of my fuzzy image, and then they might  possibly terminate my sim, rendering it useless. 

You my be wondering what all this fuss is about. Well, it is the prevention of terrorism. India has been subject to countless terrorist attacks, many of them having tragic consequences. The powers-that-be believe that by limiting/controlling foreigners' access to Indian mobile 'phone sim cards, they will be helping to reduce the risk of further terrorist outrages. Hence, the need for proper ID and good passport photographs when a visitor to India wishes to acquire an Indian sim card. 

This precaution is rendered completely pointless because there is no restriction/control over imported sim cards. Anyone can enter India with a functioning non-Indian sim card. Although most people would only use it, albeit at a cost greater than Indian 'phone rates, harmlessly, it could, in principle, be used malevolently. 

Now, I have a 'kosher' Indian sim card, albeit obtained with a poorly photocopied passport photograph, which may result in it being withdrawn and activated at any moment. So I hope that you will understand why I won't be letting you know my new number. I would not want you ringing me only to discover that, "the number that you are dialling is currently disconnected."

[Written in Bangalore, India]

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