The persistent ringing of the cell phone pulled my husband out of his siesta. The lady caller at the other end screamed that he was the lucky prize winner of a coupon draw, the coupon having been dropped at a particular shop. When my husband replied that he had never visited that place, the unfazed lady loudly shot off some more shop options, one of which my husband regularly visited and admitted so. With a satisfied tone, the lady then invited him along with his wife to a popular hotel the next evening and claim the gift. My husband was too groggy to question further and hung up politely.
This call was followed by a series of calls over the next 24 hours. At one instance, my husband, tired with the calls, asked me to talk to the persistent lady. Never one to believe in the concept of “freebies”, I asked her bluntly as to the hidden costs involved.
She asserted that we need only to come and witness a presentation regarding ‘C’ Vacations and claim the gift. Her pathetic perseverance continued until finally we decided to forego our prized siesta for that noon and went over to the designated place, with a mixture of curiosity (for the unknown), and disgust (for the dogged caller).
The venue turned to be an office near the popular hotel that the caller had mentioned. After a short wait, we were ushered into a congested room with an assortment of tables and chairs placed here and there. A young boy greeted us brightly and started to explain about the gifts. The first was an entry pass with a short-term validity to a local water park with the condition that we pay for the food and costumes and visit only on a Tuesday. The second gift, which came with a rider too, was a short holiday at one of their resorts but we needed to bear the travel, boarding expenses and service tax also, which in all, we were told, may be anywhere from `10,000 depending on the destination.
After revealing these ‘exciting’ gifts to us, the boy called upon his senior. We were in for a shock when this gentleman coolly informed us that for a ‘meagre’ sum of `1,55,000 we could become members of their club, enjoy holidays, and even own a piece of land in a Timbuktu-like place. I replied that we preferred to travel to our own chosen destinations. Sensing that we were tough nuts to crack, he called upon his mentor for assistance. This chap came to us chewing gum, a ring dangling from one ear and exuding strong tobacco vapours that immediately drove me into a coughing tizzy in the stuffy room.
Oblivious to my predicament, he asked his subordinate to get a few land agreements (suspicious gift deeds) and feedback forms for our perusal. He announced grandly that the offer was only for the day and asked us if we would like to pay in cash or by card! When we replied that we have sufficiently travelled, including in the US and Europe, he demanded to know how we had travelled with a bit of sarcasm in his voice. I replied with a straight face that we had flown. He then wanted to know the cost of travel and source of finance!
Was he an extension of the visa or tax authorities, I wondered. It did not stop at this. He went on to say that since we were both retired we obviously had time heavy on our hands and that we should invest in this travel scheme. My husband stiffly replied that we had a host of hobbies to keep us fully engaged at which the impertinent chap asked for details.
Enough was enough we thought and got up. He forced us to sit down with an offer of mineral water. I felt ready to slap him across his smug face.
Under sheer self-control we came out of the office, mentally disturbed with the downright trickery involved in marketing of shady schemes. I had heard about gullible people falling prey to such tactics and prided myself to be above such suckers. It was a sobering realisation that we duo had nearly joined their ranks. Caveat emptor!