Photo illustration: Mayu Kanamori/Louie Douvis
The phone rings. It rings about the same time most days. Four in the afternoon for me, 11.30am in Kolkata. Just enough time before a yummy lamb korma lunch for the ever helpful mavens of the Microsoft Security to secure my security from the many, many security threats that I - a helpless Apple slave with no Microsoft products in my house (save for an Xbox) - will never face.
''Hello, am I speaking to owner of the house, because I am the Microsoft Security and your computer is to be showing up on our systems as being very insecure, sir or madam.''
This could go two ways. With a book or a column deadline pressing, I might just hang up. More likely though, some editor or publisher will have to chew their fingernails down that little bit further because, damn it, I have the Microsoft Security on the line and I am to be showing up on their systems as being very insecure.
''Oh, oh dear, yes. You are. You are speaking to the owner of the house. What seems to be the problem? Is it my windows. Is someone coming in through my windows? Can you see that from there?''
A pause, a breath catching on the line so many thousands of miles away. Could it be this easy? The training supervisor emphasised the arrogance of the Germans, the helpful naivety of Americans and the drunken stupidity of the Australians. Could this one be drunk already? The little onscreen world clock display shows it to be late in the afternoon in Australia. The entire country could already be in a shameful spiral of alcohol abuse. Best to strike now and get that credit card number before this drunken convict cannot summon the sense to remember it or even the manual dexterity to pull the card from his wallet with fat, numb fingers.
''No sir, yes sir, there is no one at your window. It is your Windows computer that is being attacked sir. The Microsoft Windows Security shows me you have many many of the viruses and I am authorised to remove them for you, sir.''
''Oh thank god. But how did they get on my computer?''
''Oh there are many ways to trick an honest Microsoft user, sir.''
If a top operative of the Microsoft Security would ever be so puffed up with the pleasure of his own cunning as to smirk at a poor drunken convict from the Antipodes, I am certain I can sense that smirk right now, across the vast oceans of distance that separate us. Time to puncture it.
''Is it the pornography?'' I ask.
''Excuse me, sir?''
''The pornography. Is that where I got my viruses? Are they infecting my pornography?''
Yes. It appears the Australian has been drinking.
''Er, it is possible sir. If you could help me now I will just …''
''Because I watch a lot of pornography on my computer, you know. It's pretty much all I do. All day. In fact I'm watching pornography right now. I have many open windows all with pornography in them. Oh my god, do they all have the virus? Can you tell on your system. Can you see my pornography. Is it infected?''
''No sir. Your pornography is not the issue, sir. Please sir, if you could just help me. Perhaps by closing the windows with the pornography and focusing on what we have to do, sir?''
''All of the windows you mean? Because they all have pornography in them. Even the word processor.''
In a curious gender difference, at this point almost every female employee of the Microsoft Security hangs up. But the men plug on. It takes them about 10 minutes to get me to close all my pornography windows because by now I've started a stopwatch on my iPhone and I make sure it takes them 10 minutes.
''So the pornography is gone, sir?''
''I'm afraid so. But I have magazines.''
''Put down the magazines sir.''
''Are they infected too?''
''No sir, but we need to get on with this.''
''OK. What next.''
''We need to run a diagnostic, sir. Can you follow instructions? Will you do as I ask, sir?''
''Of course. What do I do?''
It gets tricky here. The helpful man from the Microsoft Security begins instructing me to do things that, on a Windows computer, would presumably allow him to take control of the machine and begin making merry with the files and apps, cracking open email, for instance, and hoovering up all the contents to be scanned later for credit card numbers, login details to online banking and so forth.
''Sorry, sorry,'' I say. I might have to restart the computer.''
''But why, sir. We are not up to that part.''
''I got some drool in the keys. There's a bit of smoke.''
Unfortunately, never having owned a Windows machine, I cannot follow the Microsoft Security's exact instructions I must rely on cunning and subterfuge. Cunning and subterfuge and the belief of at least one Indian scam caller that Australians are not just stupid drunks but wretched, drooling perverts too.
''Have you gone to website address I gave you, sir?''
''Er, I tried to?''
''What do you mean you tried?''
''Well I typed it in the address bar thingy?''
''And what is on screen, sir?''
A pause. ''What?''
''Pornography. I think it's Russian. Does that help?''
A sigh. ''No sir.''
And so we begin again. Or he hangs up, cursing me as an Aussie smart arse. Just under an hour is my record. An hour in which I got no paying work done, but of course neither did they.