MUMBAI: On Wednesday, an SMS started doing the rounds of cellphones. It urged people not to accept calls from a few numbers listed in the message.
If a call originated from any of these numbers, the message said, it would show up on their cellphone screens in red. On taking the call, the message added, a high-frequency sound would emanate.
It could cause the brain to haemorrhage and even kill. "27 persons died just on receiving these calls from these numbers," it added for good measure.
"Inform to al your friends relatives soon," it concluded. A few TV channels fell for the hoax. That translated into breathless anchors telling their equally beady-eyed viewers what numbers not to accept calls from. The message gained credibility. In public interest, though, The Times of India bravely dialled the five numbers listed in the message.
This writer survived to tell the tale. Three numbers do not exist. But two do. Both, however, went unanswered. Chances are, those who own the numbers have stopped taking calls, exasperated by a few hundred curious bravehearts.
That said, as far as hoaxes go, this particular one has an interesting history. In June 2004, an email started doing the rounds of the internet. It claimed to be a "confidential, internal document" leaked from Nokia's headquarters and was purportedly signed by the company's CEO Jorma Ollila.
The note said: "It is my sad duty to inform you that these rumours are true." A few paragraphs of assorted rubbish later, the note ended on an ominous note.
"As far as I am concerned, the loss of life is an acceptable risk we must face, in order to sell our products and keep our business alive." The prankster who created the email was inspired by a 2002 Hollywood flick called The Ring. It didn't take much for the e-mail to find its way into the internet's Museum of Hoaxes. Still archived on technology websites like Gizmodo, the urban legend now elicits a few chuckles.
But stories, like cockroaches, don't die easy. A few months later, it resurfaced in Nigeria and spread like wildfire. A few weeks of pacifying later, life got back to normal, and the story went back to history. Two years later, it came back to life in Pakistan.
This time around, though, the message claimed 20 people had died. The Pakistani clergy took this as a sign from above. Many mosques in Karachi started to warn the faithful of God's wrath. It took a joint effort by telecom operators in Pakistan to assuage people's fears and give the story one more burial. But the story simply jumped borders and invaded Afghanistan.
An angry government quickly blamed the Taliban for stoking fear. At a press conference called by the authorities to squash the SMS, a spokesperson for Afghanistan's interior ministry said: "I find it necessary to assure people that the rumour spreading around the city is absolute nonsense. It is the work of the enemy."
While it is not known how the Taliban responded to the accusation, the story found its way to Kuwait, and is now on Indian soil.
Edited by abide - 22 August 2007 at 10:19pm