Uncle Sam’s Bangalore Calling
Author Brinda S Narayan’s first book Bangalore Calling is a story about the employees working at a call centre in Bangalore who juggle between false identities, abusive customers and the tugs of family and community.
The book 'Bangalore Calling' has fifteen linked stories which explores the social costs of outsourcing- the erosion of cultures, the displacement of vernacular languages and accents-in a world that’s not yet flat.
The author spent her childhood in Bangalore and did her Bachelor’s in Economics at Wellesley College. She pursued her Masters in Communication from Stanford University. And after a short stint with a small-town newspaper in Seattle, she returned to Bangalore and worked for fifteen years in the corporate sector. She is an avid reader who loves to read both fiction and non-fiction. She is currently working on her second book. Below are the excerpts from the chat with author Brinda Narayan.
How did you get started with writing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, both at school and college. And though I did my Master’s in Communication, I did not pursue a career that involved writing since there were few media openings in Bangalore at that point. (This was in the early ‘90s). And though I did enjoy my corporate job, I always had a gnawing sense that I should be doing something else. And it was a consulting stint at a call centre, where I was sifting agent voices on ‘quality’ that sparked off my interest in examining the sector at a deeper level. So I took a sabbatical and did extensive research at three call centers. Bangalore Calling is the outcome of that research.
How closely have you experienced the call centre culture?
I have experienced the call centre culture very closely and very intensely. I worked as a consultant where I spent several months on the other side of the fence – trying to enhance agent quality and productivity to boost customer satisfaction. And then as a researcher, I tried to understand the process from an agent’s perspective, and from the viewpoint of various people working in a call centre.
What prompted you to write about the call centre culture?
At that point, mainstream media was focusing on Indian job gains and American job losses. And yet, as a quality consultant, I felt a vague unease about what we were doing to ourselves as a community. Surely, I wondered, like Yvette, the Anglo-Indian trainer in my book; that there must be psychological repercussions on agents working in the call centre. And I wanted to understand what these consequences might be.
What kind of research went through writing this book?
I have done extensive research before I could pen down this book. I have met 70 call centre employees; I have also met several agent families. I transcribed a complete training program and I spent several nights in the call centre listening to hundreds of live calls.
Share some of your best moments while writing this book?
I completely enjoyed interacting with the call centre agents for the project. And of course, there were a few ‘eureka’ moments during the writing process, when a situation or a character’s dilemma got satisfactorily resolved. Most of it however involved sticking to the grind, regardless of results.
So what are the highlights of your book?
The main highlight is the social costs of outsourcing. We also have to be aware that discrimination by voice can be as pernicious as discrimination by skin-type. As a community, we need to be sensitive to the offshoots of such discrimination. The book addresses some important themes, but at the same time it’s entertaining, it’s funny, it’s sad and hopefully provokes questions that can lead to interesting conversations.
Why Uncle Sam on the cover?
Uncle Sam was most famously used on wartime posters during World War I, with the caption “I want you.” Given that my book deals with the consequences of globalization, and in particular the Americanization of Indian call centre agents, I think the image depicts the phenomenon very aptly.
What do you read mostly name few of your favourite authors?
I do read a lot, and there are many authors I’ve been besotted with at various points in my life. Few of my favorites are, Margaret Atwood’s (Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Blind Assassin), Alice Munro’s (Hateship, Loveship, Courtship, Friendship, Marriage, Raunaway, Dance of the Happy Shades), Rohinton Mistry’s (Tales from Firozshaa Baag, Family Matters, A Fine Balance), Amitav Ghosh (A Hungry Tide, The Glass Palace, The Sea of Poppies)
The publisher is also running a review contest that ends on July 31st. Do submit your entries at www.bangalorecalling.in You can also look at the trailer of the book at www.youtube.com/bangalorecalling
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs 295