Those strangers who strike a conversation with you during bus journeys - what might be their motive? Have you faced any business-minded persons trying to extract contacts?
Something that happens once may be brushed aside as an aberration. What if it occurs twice?
I am a regular commuter on the garden city Bengaluru's buses. Needless to say, I spend a substantial amount of time both at bus stops and on the bus. One resource that is aplenty on buses and at bus stops is people. Where there are people, there is scope for interaction. Interactions are not a norm at bus stops or buses. Each person prefers their own space in this situation. That is why even a rare exchange could prove interesting, unlike one may have elsewhere.
It so happened many months ago that a man in this late 30s struck up a conversation with me on the bus. If I remember correctly, he used the topic of hot weather to break the ice. The ride was a relatively short one, around 15 minutes, during which we exchanged a bit of information about our respective careers and family backgrounds. He was of the corporate software type, but I don't remember the name of the company.
It was my first such interaction on the bus, so it did feel odd. I even noticed others interestedly listening in, which added to my discomfort. My stop was almost getting close, and we had finished our exchange. But then it happened. He asked me for my number. I wondered why he wanted my number. I didn't see why he would want the number of someone working as a social researcher. It had nothing to do with him at the immediate level. None the less, reluctantly I gave him my number. I stored his number as well, and registered his name. This would help me avoid his call if he ever rang. I actually rationalised that he will not have any reason to call anytime.
But then, brief interactions don't reveal motives. I got a call from him the next day. I didn't pick up. So he decided to call again the day after. I picked the call. After initial pleasantries, he tried to sell me the idea to invest in his start up. Being an NGO worker with no savings, it was not going to happen. He knew that. But he also knew that my parents are well to do. Maybe that's why he called? Anyway, I let him know that I was not interested, for various reasons. And that was that. Memory deserts me now on whether he made an additional call a few weeks later to reaffirm.
We move a few months ahead. I'm getting back from work on the bus and a man asked me for some help with where to get off. There was time, and so he decided to take the conversation forward. He was too a man in formal clothing, doing some corporate job, and had moved recently to Bangalore. We exchanged information, and on cue, he asked for my number! I was unprepared to refuse, and so I obliged.
A few days later, he calls. I don't pick. And he hasn't called since.
The above episodes were becoming fading memories. I was waiting for a pickup at a bus stop a few days ago, sitting by myself. A young man of about 28 was speaking loudly over the phone congratulating a friend and apologising for not being at an event. He then proceeded to ask me about buses to a particular destination and then struck up a conversation of what I was doing in Bangalore. He shared that he worked for a well known software company and had moved to Bangalore two years ago.
Again, we exchanged work related information and he was quite happy to meet someone working in the NGO sector. He got up to leave and shook hands, and then asked for my number. I was totally unprepared on what to say. I just gave it. He takes my number and decides to walk down to his destination. When my relative arrived to pick me up, I informed her about the incident and that I expect his call soon on some business proposition.
It didn't take long. Next evening I got a call from him for “a very good reason”. He said that he was part of a company started by an IIM graduate looking to launch a branch in Bangalore and they were looking for "smart entrepreneurial candidates" such as me to help them with the business. He asked me if I was interested in making additional income without much effort. I gave him some reasons which adequately clarified why I could not participate in his venture. I thanked him for considering me, and said good bye.
I don’t think these people were scamsters. They appeared genuine. But I found the whole situation quite strange, especially now that it has happened more than once. Are there others who have had similar experiences? I am interested to know. In any case, I am now prepared to say no to the next individual who asks for my number at a bus stop. At least, I think I am.