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A cool night. The Bikaner Express from Kochuveli, speeding along assigned tracks to its destination, is nearing Mangalore. Most all are asleep. Hmmm… maybe not all. Inside A1 coach, on seat number 4, a conversation is afoot

Nokia N-70: Pssssst…

She: (sleepily) Yeah what is it??

Nokia N-70: (whispers with due consideration for the time) It’s them.

She: (still sleepily) Them??

Nokia N-70: (rolls eyes) Who else?? Your Service Providers, the Airtel people of course.

She: (partially awake now) Airtel?? What do they want at this unearthly hour??!! (plaintively) Don’t tell me they have started sending messages about Hello Tunes before the rooster has even had the time to crow! I bloody don’t want any of those damn Hello Tunes! (buries head under pillow but realizing its been issued by Indian Railways decides against it)

Nokia N-70: (chuckles)

She: (annoyed) What are you chuckling for?? What do I need any Hello Tunes for?? Those calling me can very well listen to the plain and simple ringing tone. Yessir, they very well can. (gnashes teeth) Tell them, the Airtellers in no uncertain terms they can put those Hello Tunes where the m…..

Nokia N-70 (rolls eyes at the drama) They just want to welcome you. Atithi devo bhava and all that don’t you know… You have just entered the state of Karnataka.Tada!

She: (shamefaced at the unwarranted reaction) Ohh well…

Nokia N-70: Besides they want to tell you that calls are cheaper while you ‘roam’!

She: Ohh ok. The guys only want me to go yakkety-yak while on the move so they can fill their coffers. But anyways, bung them a thanks from me (goes back to sleep without much ado)

It is a lovely day. Breakfast has been served and consumed. The Bikaner Express with single-minded devotion to duty is still running along assigned tracks towards destination.

Nokia N-70: Psssst…

She: (looks up from her book) What??

Nokia N-70: Its them again.

She: What now??

Nokia N-70: The Airtel guys are welcoming you to Goa.

She: (in good humor) Pretty nifty on their feet! Jolly decent of them, don’t you think, welcoming the throng moving hither and thither??!! ….And ‘roaming’ is still cheaper I suppose??! (laughs heartily at her poor joke)

Nokia N-70: (remembering the drama early in the morn rolls eyes and remains silent)

Some time after leaving Mudgaon behind, with the Bikaner Express continuing to run on tracks assigned with the clearly defined goal of reaching destination on time….

Nokia N-70: Psssst…

She: (still in good humor) Oh hullo! Is it another welcome?? My my!! They do lay out the red carpet now, don’t they?? (thinks warmly about the guys and gals back at Airtel)

Nokia N-70: No. I just wanted to tell you I cannot connect to your bally Service Providers, the Airtel people. They have disappeared off the scene, without a trace.

She: (philosophically) No one is perfect. Airtel too has its moments of wanting to shut itself away from the crowds I guess.

Nokia N-70: (rolls eyes yet again and mutters under breath) Loony to the core, if you ask me!

She: (turns questioningly) You said something??

Nokia N-70: (with butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-mouth look) Me??? Oh, I just said ‘Yes of course!’

She: (smiles indulgently in reply and having decided to watch a movie, takes out her laptop)

A couple of hours later….

She: No messages for me?? No calls too….. That’s strange!

Nokia N-70: (unhappily) Sorry, still ‘no range’! Airtel is playing hookey.

She: What do you mean ‘no range’?? It’s been so long now!! I just finished watching a whole movie, Sleepless in Seattle.

Nokia N-70: (miffed) Not my fault you know. Besides I warned you early on. There was a brief flicker from them a while back, they even welcomed you to Maharashtra, but ‘poof’ they disappeared again.

She: (not paying attention) WTH!!!! I am in the middle of nowhere, marooned. OMG! I can’t reach anyone! No one can reach me. I want to make a call. OMG I am expecting a call too. I am also waiting to receive some messages. OMG OMG OMG!!

Nokia N-70: (chuckles at the entertainment got free of cost)

She: (in annoyance) What the heck are you smirking for??

Nokia N-70: (now totally amused) You wanna read more messages about Hello Tunes?? (chortles) Or maybe you wanna read those unwanted ads!? Remember there was one wanting you to buy Rajasthani marbles?? Hahahaha…

She: (does her Ice-Queen act, freezing Nokia N-70 with one icy look) I do get messages other than ones offering Hello Tunes for your information or ads for Rajasthani marbles.

There is a chill in the air along with the silence and it is not because the A/C attendant of the coach has changed the temperature settings for the compartment. After a few hundred times of She checking Nokia N-70 to know whether Airtel is back from playing truant…..

Nokia N-70: (in distant tones, since the earlier freezing stare rankled) You don’t have to keep punching me every second you know. You heard your fellow passenger say you won’t get services of Airtel till you reach Panvel. (adds as an afterthought) Maybe you should opt for some other Service Provider, like Vodafone or BSNL or….

She: (sighs) Ok ok, I was only looking at the time and by the way, I don’t want to change service providers.

Nokia N-70: (indifferently) Suit yourself! (adds sarcastically) I bet you don’t have a watch to know the time of the day and that’s why you punch me! (gives martyred look)

She: (spiritedly) So what?? That’s in your roster of duties, telling me the time!! As a matter of fact, I don’t have a watch. So there! (stops short of sticking her tongue out at Nokia N-70 as it is after all her life-line that connects her to the world besides letting her listen to her favorite songs. She punches a few more buttons and loses herself to Jagjit Singh’s mesmerizing voice singing ‘Aankhon mein yuun ansoon’)

A short while later, as the train nears Panvel…

Nokia N-70: (frostily, as the previous exchange still rankled) Pssst…

She: (a trifle annoyed at being disturbed while listening to one of her favorite songs by Rafi, ’Ek haseen shaam ko dil mera kho gaya’) Yeah what??

Nokia N-70: (still in frosty tones) Your service providers, the Airtel people are back in action.

She: (overjoyed at the news, forgets all animosity and hugs Nokia N-70) Ohh I am so happy. Any messages for me??

Nokia N-70: (drawls) Oh yeah. Airtel welcomes you to Mumbai.(snickers)

She: What do you mean ‘Airtel welcomes you to Mumbai’??!!! They welcomed me to Maharashtra a while back. Wasn’t that enough??! They have to welcome me to Mumbai too?? Isn’t Mumbai part of Maharashtra??!! Anyways… I don’t want to hear about any more welcomes. Tell me of other messages.

Nokia N-70: Yeah there are some more, a few missed call alerts and couple of messages from Yahoo.

She: Now you tell me! You better get your priorities right. Grrrrr… As if Airtel’s welcome is what I had been on the lookout for!

Nokia N-70: (smiles secretively at having got its own back)

She: (quickly scanning through messages and punching replies) And don’t think I did not notice the sly grin.

As the Bikaner Express nears Vapi, well past one in the morning….

Nokia N-70: Pssst…

She: (wearily and sleepily) Don’t tell me, let me guess. It’s another of those welcomes. Right??!

Nokia N-70: (chuckles) Yeppers. You are welcomed to Gujarat.

She: Thank God, I am not going any further! So no more waking me up! (goes back to sleep peacefully)

They alight at Vadodara and are warmly welcomed. A few days later, they are on the move again to Rajkot in Surat Intercity and on the way….

Nokia N-70: Hey…

She: What??

Nokia N-70: (puzzled) You are welcomed again to Gujarat.

She: (equally puzzled) But I have been in Gujarat for quite some weeks now.

Nokia N-70: What do I know about these things??! Humans!! I am just the messenger or display board rather. Airtel sends and I show you the message. (in mock serious tones) Maybe you have been talking less and they want to remind you to talk some more. Their message says ‘Roaming is now cheaper at blah blah blah rates….’ (laughs mischievously)

She: (going off on a different track unlike the train she is on, which is still on track assigned) Ahh so they think! How the heck can ‘roaming’ be cheaper?? How much do they think tickets cost??!! I shelled out quite a bit to the porter too, not to mention the clothes I bought…. the only thing I found cheap was the yummy pakodas with green chilly I gorged at Vadodara station and…..

Nokia N-70: (rolls eyes): Airtel means the call chargers while roaming, not the tickets or clothes or pakodas (with or without green chillies) or whatever….

She: (coming back on track) Oh well…

A few days later on the way back from Rajkot on the Surat Intercity….

Nokia N-70: Hey….

She: (all eager) Is there a message from Yahoo??

Nokia N-70: (shortly) No! (rolls eyes) You are welcomed once again to Gujarat.

She: (plaintively) But I AM in Gujarat. I never stepped out of the state! Don’t you think this is carrying Athiti devo bhava a little too far??

Nokia N-70: (sniggers) May be they at Airtel lovvve you so much that they don’t tire of sending you welcomes.

She: (glares)

Two weeks later in the middle of the night, while sleeping peacefully at sister’s house at Vadodara…..

Nokia N-70: Psssst…

She: (continues sleeping, gently snoring)

Nokia N-70: Hey you….

She: (is rudely woken up and is totally disoriented) Uhh eh ehh?? What, what??

Nokia N-70: It’s them again. The Airtel gang.

She: (rudely) Tell them to bloody go away!

Nokia N-70: (enjoying this greatly) Oh we can’t do that you know. Remember you need them. They connect you to the world. Without them you’d be marooned in the middle of nowhere otherwise…

She: (impatiently) Put a sock in it, will you??

Nokia N-70: (with self righteousness) Oh no siree, I am a conscientious cell phone. I cannot rest until I have done my duty…

She: (resignedly) Ok ok. What do they want now?? If it is more Hello tunes… someone is going to get murdered tonight. (looks with murderous intentions at Nokia N-70)

Nokia N-70: (cheerfully) Don’t look at me I am just a messenger boy, I only….

She: (exasperatedly) Heyyyyy!!!!!

Nokia N-70: (prudently puts a sock in it)

She: Out with the message, NOW! (grumbles under breath about machines who don’t need sleep keeping humans who need their forty winks awake)

Nokia N-70: Oh well, they have just welcomed you to Gujarat again, (snickers) twenty days after you entered the state. (snickers some more)

She: WHAT??!!! But I am returning tomorrow!! (by now wide awake) OMG, the whole thing is going to start all over again!! Oh no! (punches pillow a few times)

Nokia N-70: (wisely withdraws from scene muttering) At least my keys won’t be punched any more to know what the time is now that She has been gifted a watch by her sis! (raises eyes heavenward) Thank God for small mercies!!

Airtel, Nokia and She