Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"One Night @ The Call Center" by Chetan Bhagat

A Look at An Indian Call Center

One Night @ The Call Center by Chetan Bhagat (2005, 310 pages) is set in Guragon in northern India.    The author was born in New Delhi and now lives in Mumbai.

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. 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)
TBR Challenge

Mel u


Suko said...

Often, we receive calls from telemarketers in India who sell medications. In the book you describe, the call center receives calls from customers needing help of some sort--this sounds interesting. A "behind-the-scenes" look at an Indian call center!

Michelle (su[shu]) said...

Interesting review. I found it funny how you mentioned about calls that "ask where the on switch on their DVD player is." It sounds ridiculous, but in real life, we do have calls that come in with questions like that.

I've worked for the Call Centre for an insurance company before, so although I don't get calls asking random questions like that, I did get calls asking if they should put their height in feet and inches, or in cm. After a whole week of this, anyone would be frustrated.

I've got a ton of books to read yet, so I don't think I'll be picking this book up any time soon. But it's good reading your thoughts on it.

Ana said...

That is an interesting book to read for sure. I am going to look for it. It is interesting that this is one of the subjects we discussed during one of my last semester classes, the one about doing business globally. In my opinion, the main problem with outsourcing customer service is the cultural gap, as this is one type of job where you are supposed to build some kind of empathically type relationship with your client, but how ? You cannot even imagine the lifestyle of your client, neither is he/she able to imagine yours. However, as you have to interact with each over ,you are trying to figure out a method to communicate and as you are attempting to imagine the other people's life is so easy to fall into stereotyping...On both sides.

Jhay said...

I've always wondered what call centers are like in India. This one's for the to-read list definitely.

Jeane said...

It sounds interesting. I've wondered what those places are like, but never saw a book on the subject.

call center said...

I haven't read the story yet but I have heard it from my friends , I liked the story as it is of totally different taste. I have the film instead.

Dorte H said...

Interesting, both for the setting and the call centres which I hardly knew anything about. And if you have to service American caller every night, I can understand that you will say undiplomatic things about them sometimes :D

Mark David said...

Ah, very interesting review Mel :) Yes, I'm familiar with this too since the district where I work in also have lots of call center companies. It's funny what you said about "call center english". Everyone knows that's not the way Americans actually speak English, but still it's been established as the accent of preference for those who work in this field :)

Okibum said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I am actually more interested in the call centers in the Philippines. Those are some strange requirements for people that won't be seen by their customers.

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for the recommendation - I will add it to my TBR for the South Asian Author Challenge!

Anonymous said...

Nice review, Mel! I heard about the book when it first came out but forgot about it. Sounds good still.