If flamboyance is understood anywhere, it surely is in Punjab. If one businessman in Ludhiana flaunted his Rs. 1.55 million-(Rs 15.5 lakh)-worth mobile number, there are now at least 100 others who will tell you that they bought their mobile numbers for anything between Rs. 100,000 and Rs. 1 million.
The craze among prosperous Punjabis to own such fancy or VIP numbers is actually sending mobile companies laughing all the way to the banks.
The state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) is the latest mobile company to get richer by nearly Rs. 10 mn this week by letting number-crazy people bid for such fancy numbers.
So a number like 9864000005 went for a whopping Rs. 900,000 to a successful bidder. The mobile numbers 9864000018 and 9864000001 went for Rs. 850,000 and Rs. 750,000 respectively.
Even though the authenticity of the bidders is yet to be verified, BSNL officials here are overjoyed by the response from people for the so-called VIP numbers.
"We have initiated this bidding scheme after observing the craze for VIP numbers among mobile users in Punjab," BSNL general manager at Ludhiana S K Nigam said.
BSNL officials say that earlier all these VIP and fancy numbers used to be given to influential people including ministers, politicians, bureaucrats, police officials, industrialists and leading personalities of varied fields.
"But now BSNL will earn revenue from the sale of these numbers. Earlier these numbers were going for free," a senior BSNL official said in Chandigarh.
Ludhiana-based businessman Amit Malhotra bought the number - 9780000000 - from mobile company Hutch in July for a mind-boggling Rs. 1.55 mn through an online auction.
"I am happy to get a number like this. I borrowed money from friends and relatives to buy this number. I will repay them later," Malhotra said.
A number in the BSNL series 98641 ending with five zeros - 00000 - went for a bid of Rs. 350,000 this week.
Not everyone is happy though.
"I call this madness. It is a waste of money just to have a fancy number. These people should be investigated," Jalandhar-based exporter Raman Bhatia said.
But others say that it is in the "Punjabi by nature" to flaunt if they have the money to do it.
A bank executive in Jalandhar city is known to possess 86 such fancy mobile numbers and wants to take his count to 100. He does not use the SIM cards of all the numbers at the same time though. He has purchased most of the numbers through bidding.
Mobile company Airtel, however, has not joined the game of selling mobile numbers to subscribers.
Airtel possesses the only unique number of its kind in the country - 9876543210 - but has not sold it. Company sources say many heavy bids have been offered for this number.
In Chandigarh, people also have a craze for VIP and fancy car registration numbers. One such number went for Rs. 505,000 last year. This year, for a newly launched series, the number - CH 04 0001 - went for Rs. 480,000.