WITH LOVE FROM MUMBAI

By CAROLINE BACHMANN

In July of 2009, a few months after Adriana Silva first moved into her rented house in Ewing, she received a call on her mobile phone from an unrecognized number. Adriana took the call, as most of us presumably would – with a hint of cautious curiosity.

A man with an oddly conspicuous Indian accent greeted her. “Hello, is this Adriana?” he asked, to which she ambivalently affirmed.

“This is Jasdesh (pronounced Yash-Desh) Patel,” the man said, “calling on behalf of Jasdesh Patel.”

He abruptly claimed to have taken quite a liking to her Facebook photos – though they were not confirmed friends. “Jasdesh” offered his finest compliments, calling Adriana a “voluptuous woman” who should expect his friend request. Tentatively, she awaited the caller’s electronic entreat, hoping to no sooner discover him to be a jokester with poor taste.

After indeed receiving and accepting the man’s request that night, but only allowing restricted access to her information, Adriana perused his profile. She noted an especially generic default image that seemed as though it were extracted from a cursory “Indian man” Google image search. Doubtful that there was anything of substance to be found about him on Facebook, Adriana resolved to permanently block the apparent charlatan.

After removing him as a Facebook friend, Adriana received multiple calls and voicemails from unknown numbers – all of which proved to be the work of Jasdesh. He called to extensively lament her deletion of their friendship.

The man, whose identity is still a mystery, also wanted to let Adriana know that he was not going to leave her alone.

The calls continued, and Jasdesh’s inquires became more explicit. He asked Adriana whether she was “DTF” (see: urban dictionary) and shelled out additional sexual advances.

The situation intensified when Jasdesh announced that he had Adriana’s address – and would soon be paying her a visit.

Now fearing for her safety, Adriana did not appreciate Jasdesh’s offers of “private computer lessons” – despite his supposed credentials as an Intel employee. In an attempt at what he considered humor, Jasdesh implied that like his company’s graphics chip, his nether-region featured a “Pentium Processor.” Jasdesh was fond of making jokes, though most were likely funny to him alone.

Then the jester got creative. Adriana received a call from a different man who said he had been instructed, via Facebook message from Jasdesh, to call her. The confused man believed he was given the number of a long-lost cousin. These blatant invasions of privacy, troublesome in their own right, kindled greater trauma for Adriana and her housemates. Whatever the culprit’s motive, she felt threatened. Collectively unsettled, Adriana’s housemates began to speculate about who was really on the other end of the line.

Immediately coming to mind was their passive-aggressive neighbor, Don, who regularly displayed contempt for having to live across the street from college students. Not long ago, out of pure spite, he defiantly threw one of the housemate’s garbage cans down a hill. Don’s grievance, they said, was related to some alleged violation of property line adherence. Don actually called the TCNJ administration to complain about the girls, which suggested a strong commitment to making their lives unpleasant. Though he didn’t strike them as particularly tech-savvy, the girls said, Don could not be ruled out as the man behind Jasdesh.

Another plausible suspect was a young man who sublet one of the rooms in Adriana’s house for a short time over the summer – and then vanished. He refused to pay his share of the utility bill, and then subsequently taunted Adriana with text messages about getting off scot-free. With apparent enemies such as these, the perpetrator’s motive is potentially not as innocuous as that of the run-of-the mill creepster across the ocean.

For a time, the phone calls stopped, leading Adriana to believe that there was an end in sight.

One night, as Adriana sat in her living room, her phone began to vibrate: Marcella, her BFF, was calling. This would not normally be cause for concern, of course, but Marcella was sitting right next to her.

The two scrambled to find Marcella’s phone and confirmed that she was not, in fact, calling – they let the call go through to voicemail. But seconds later the individual purporting to be Marcella called again. This time, Adriana answered, and was greeted with a familiar line: “This is Jasdesh Patel, calling on behalf of Jasdesh Patel.”

They decided to contact the police.

But the girls’ report wasn’t met with the judicious vigor that they had anticipated. One particularly unsympathetic officer rolled his eyes and dismissively exclaimed “Oh, God” when Adriana and Marcella tried to explain their situation. At one point the officer interrupted them, saying that they “did this shit to themselves” by making their information available online. He posited that Adriana probably had posted her phone number on Facebook, giving access to anyone with a computer and a motive. Admittedly, there did not seem to be much that the police could do at the time, unprofessional attitudes or not. But still, a bit of sympathy for what was undoubtedly a form of harassment would have been appreciated.

This much is clear: what may have started out as a lame attempt at a prank soon turned into a stress-inducing nightmare. Adriana has already taken a hiatus from Facebook, having only recently returned with a disguised name. The girls also plan to change their numbers and are looking into using their cell phone providers’ records to track down the pursuant. It is difficult to say, however, whether any such investigation would put an end to Jasdesh’s advances.

To be sure, technology allows for the potential of self-perpetuated isolation. Physical “facetime” has for many turned into “Facebook time” and for still many more, texting and email have replaced all other forms of communication. The argument can certainly be made that the rise of the Internet has brought with it a rise in reclusive behavior – or, at least, a rise in the number of excuses one can conjure up to justify staying holed in a dark room.

But in Adriana’s case, and others like it, the problem isn’t that we are becoming disconnected, it’s that we are becoming too connected. The allure of the Internet, and of social networking sites in particular, is the phenomenon of simultaneous connection and disconnection; without leaving our pajamas, we can know what millions of people across the world are doing. In most instances, those who surf over to our profiles do so benignly. And even among hackers, trolls, and other commonplace Internet villains, their antics rarely result in any lasting damage. Typically, the havoc they wreak stays confined to the virtual world.

But what can be done when disturbances transcend the cyber realm, when our screens can no longer be our savers? What happens when electronic threats become dangerously real, and how are we to know what to take seriously? Though it is difficult to imagine an individual with both the mental capacity to track down a foe’s personal information and the level of immaturity to use it as a means of harassment, such antagonists are certainly out there. I’d postulate that this sort of pithy troublemaker is similar to the kid who puts gum on the underside of door handles and unscrews the caps on salt and peppershakers.

So carefree Facebookers, be warned! Whether they reside across the ocean or across the street, the enemy you cannot see is often the most dangerous enemy of all.

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