This Valentine’s Day, I received the first love letter of my life. The mail couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Updates on Pulwama were constantly pouring in, with every quarter of an hour bringing in more bad news. Absorbed in the national shock and grief, I opened the email and said aloud to myself, “Oh God, not again!” No, I hadn’t received more of the same stuff yet again. I told you it was the first one of my life. It was another one of what was supposed to go to someone else but had reached me instead. This someone else happens to have the same name as me – the same name as in the same first name and the same surname. And it’s not one someone else but more than a handful of someone elses. Absurd, isn’t it?
Absurd is one of the leitmotifs of my life. The recurring nature of something should take away the element of surprise because of the familiarity that results naturally from iteration. Not in my case though. The absurd takes on a different form each time, catching me unawares and leaving me dumbfounded on every occasion. Not all absurdities in my life are equally absurd. Some are are-you-serious absurd; others are what-on-earth absurd; and yet others are I-have-had-enough-of-this absurd. I had an are-you-serious absurd episode at the peak of Indian #MeToo last autumn and a what-on-earth absurd episode at the start of the ongoing winter. The I-have-had-enough-of-this absurd started three years back, reached its pinnacle last year, has declined since, but isn’t over yet.
One May day in 2016, I received a bizarre, rather funny, email from a person I have never known. The subject line was not a lame “Hi” but a personalized “hii shailja kaisi ho”. Curious, I opened the mail to find not one word of any language in the world in it; all there was was a photo of a girl I have never seen. Yeah, that’s it! Was it a photo of the Shailja this mail was meant for? Was it a photo of Bhoomika who had sent this mail? Was it simply a prank? I couldn’t decide it then, but I heard no more from the sender and am inclined to rule out the possibility of it being a prank.
A few days after this absurd event, UrbanClap sent me a login OTP and then a confirmation that they had accepted my “order for a Apple Product Repair”. A month later, I was hit by back-to-back emails from Street Style Store, notifying me of account creation, order placement and shipping. One of their mails showed Dehradun to be my location. A few hours later, I got an email from a recruitment agency I didn’t know existed, giving the description of a job I had never shown any interest in. I sensed the mail was important and immediately wrote back to the sender, suggesting that she verify the contact details of the intended recipient.
This initial flurry was followed by a breather that lasted months. Then, I heard from UrbanClap once again. This time, I was in Gurugram and had requested quotations from dieticians to help me gain weight! At no point in my life have I been in need of weight gain and that there will never arise a need like this is as sure a thing as climate change.
In 2017, while my preparations for Diwali were in full swing, I received an email that gave me a mini heart attack. HDFC had sanctioned my loan request for Rs. 300000. Since I have an account with the bank and have this same email linked to the account, I did not for a second imagine it could have been anything other than a case of impersonation and hacking. Setting everything aside, I shot off a mail to the bank. A call from them some days later made me understand this goof-up was the outcome of a namesake based in Seoni providing them an email id that was remarkably similar to mine.
The year 2018 was pleasingly quiet until August arrived, when my namesake from Seoni placed an order for a party gown on Fabulous. Another August day, confidential customer data from Hinduja Leyland Finance landed mysteriously in my inbox. In quick succession to that, an email from an apologetic student of I don’t know what discipline made its way to my mailbox. Starting September, my inbox came under heavy fire from a very enthusiastic and a shopaholic namesake residing in Dalhousie. One day I would get mails from Zivame, the next day from FirstCry. Today, it would be from Myntra, tomorrow from Nykaa or Mamaearth.
The madness continued unabated. One unsuspecting day, I learnt I had opened a Netflix account. Another day, another email – this time it was Adobe congratulating me for joining their services. Then, in what can only be described as creepy, Google Calendar created a hotel-stay event for me at ITC, Chennai. Imagine my horror when I saw that the price of the room was Rs. 9000 a night! I mean I am the kind of person who, when travelling alone, starts the hotel search from Rs. 900 onwards.
When this comedy of errors began in 2016, it was both mildly amusing and mildly annoying. By the time 2018 was nearing its end, there was no element of funny left. I wanted this stupidity to stop; F.O.R.E.V.E.R. But I didn’t know what to do to stop my namesakes from giving my email id as theirs. Eons ago, Gmail used to be an invitation-only service. I have had this account since then. Yes, I am that ancient! But this is not the reason why I latch onto it. Closing it could have brought peace to my life if only it weren’t linked to a whole lot of services.
When my fervent online shopper namesake from Dalhousie created yet another account – on Ferns N Petals this time – I got hold of a precious resource that held potential to mitigate my vexation. Mobile phone numbers are the new gold. Every marketer wants to mine as many as they can. One of them was going to be my saviour. The moment I spotted the number, I dialled it. This Kartik-calling-Kartik-minus-the-schizophrenia moment was sort of funny for me. For my namesake, it was clearly a discomfiting one. Imagine being told I know where exactly you live; I know you shopped for a coffee mug just now, a face wash two days ago, a romper some weeks before that; I know your husband’s name is K because you provide his name instead of yours sometimes.
The outcome of the conversation was that I stopped getting those pesky emails from online shopping sites with immediate effect. “Mission accomplished,” I thought, until I got that Valentine’s Day letter from a lovelorn boy. My intention was to ignore it, but then the guy sent me another one in a space of nine minutes. In a not-so-polite reply, I asked him to verify the email address of his object of desire and to write to me no more. The reply worked.
I have experienced peace since then. There have been long periods of quiet earlier as well. So, I am not jumping in jubilation yet. There was a time in my early days of youth when I naively believed there was no one with the same name as I. I have learnt the hard way there are a lot of them out there. My namesakes and I share little else than our names. But this very little commonality has not been without consequences. Who’d have thunk?