A Look at An Indian Call Center
When I first saw this book on the 80 percent off table at a local book store I was moved to pick it up by the title. Call centers are very big here in the Philippines. Very near us are offices for IBM and HSBC in huge ultra modern building with all the amenities possible and surrounded by American style fast food restaurants. When we go past the offices in the day time the big parking lots are completely empty. The employees start working somewhere around 800 in the evening as most all of their clients are in the USA. The government is doing a lot to promote these businesses. Tax breaks and free rent are given to big corporations and there are all sorts of classes one can take in what is called "Call Center English". The pay ranges from about $200.00 (USA) per month up to $500.00 for top agents. The papers are full of ads for call center workers. Many of them say recent college graduates only, must be over five foot tall (this makes no sense but many companies will not hire a person under five foot tall-the average height for Filipino women is five two). In the employment ads for these companies you will see smiling employees all of whom look like movie stars and none are over twenty five. So I figured why not read this novel about call centers.
As it sounds, the novel is set in a call center in India. The employees all work at night. The novel centers on a call center for a big American appliance company. If somebody in Miami cannot figure out how to adjust the power levels in his new microwave they call the center. The employees in the novel are in a special section that handles "problem callers".
This means the hostile or those who call every other day asking where the on switch on their DVD player is located. The calls of the employees are monitored and they have standards about how long they can talk. These employees see only a select group of Americans, those who call to ask how often a frost free refrigerator should be defrosted or simply call to talk to someone it seems. The worst of the callers from the point of view of the workers are those who hate the Indian call center workers. The call center workers generalize from this sample of people that all Americans are idiots who hate anyone who speaks English with an accent that sounds wrong to them. Of course the frustration of the call center employees is increased by the fact that on average they are much worse off financially than their callers. Each of the employees has a call center name. There are different types. We have the princess type girl whose parents have found an Indian doctor who lives in Seattle to marry her (She has never met him but he has promised her a Lexus), we have the young man totally into fast vehicles, we have a female employee who wants to be a model and two employees who want to start their own web design business. No body wants to be a call center agent too long even though the money is not bad for their area.
Some of the call center employees say Indian will surpass American by getting the jobs of the Americans. The smarter ones realize that they are just doing the work American corporations are farming out to them to increase their profits. Call center workers do not produce anything of lasting value for their countries. Most of the pay they make is spent on fancy cell phones, mixed drinks in clubs that cost them half a day's pay and a vast array of consumer items that they are driven by the media to buy.
The fun (and it is a very entertaining novel) is in the conversations of the employees. We really do get a real look at the inside of a call center. The employees are made to come to life for us. Any one who has ever worked in a big corporation will be able to relate to the way the call center workers plot to take revenge on their boss.
I thought this book was an entertaining and edifying look at a call center in India. Some might be offended by what the agents say about Americans but if you realize what they say is really a comment on their own limits then no offense should arise. Goodreads.com reviewers give it the full range of ratings from one to five stars. I would give it three stars. It has been made into a movie. It is a clearly written fast paced and fast reading book. I would probably read another one of Bhagat's novels (he has written four) if I could get it for 80 percent off. If you do a Google search you can in fact down load this book for free as a PDF file.
I am reading this book as part of these reading Challenges
South Asia Challenge
52 in 52 Weeks
Global Reading Challenge
Across the Centuries Challenge
New Authors (new to me)