17 June 2011

Bangalore calling by Brinda S Narayan

Call Centre Tapestry
I picked this book up without much enthusiasm, finding the title and cover unappealing, and the thought, “Yawn, could there be something here that Chetan Bhagat might have missed?”
Even after reading a few pages I was still thinking pompously, “Hm, yes, while that one could be called Great Fun – we’d have to use adjectives like ‘pleasurable’, ‘enjoyable’ or ‘delightful’ for this.”
As I read, a more appropriate comparison struck me: if One Night in a Call Centre was a McDonald’s burger, then Bangalore Calling was a wedding feast by the best caterer in town.

The book opens with Yvette leaning on the trainer’s desk in Room #3 and appraising the agents as they stream in after a tea break.
Yvette is an interesting person – intelligent, self-contained, and with all the attributes of a good narrator. In the next chapter, however, the focus changes and our new protagonist is Panduranga, a driver of one of the call centre’s pick-up cabs - and we get to learn something about his family, his aspirations, and what he thinks about as he drives.
It wasn’t until I had read another two chapters, one giving us a view of the life of Natalie, an American woman who works with the American client of the Bangalore call centre and whom we had met briefly through the eyes of both Yvette and Panduranga; and the other showing us how another young woman, Bitty, copes with her life and her job as an agent at the call centre, that I understood how this book worked. Through a number of very different characters it takes us into different homes and minds and through them gives a good look at different Indian cultures and lifestyles and how each of the people representing it has reacted to the American influence and aspirations introduced by their association with the call centre.

Bangalore Calling is very well written and the story compelling. I wondered why it had not received more fanfare and felt curious to know more about the writer so I mailed her to ask from where the idea to write this book came from. She replied,
I was working as a quality consultant with a global call centre, and like Yvette, the trainer in Bangalore Calling, I was intrigued and disturbed by the identity changes I was witnessing. By then, I had worked for nearly fifteen years in various corporate jobs and I had a gnawing sense that I should be doing something else. So I took a sabbatical and conducted research at three centres. Bangalore Calling is the outcome of my study.
The publishers of this book tell us that its author “has worked for fifteen years in the corporate sector. She holds a BA in Economics from Wellesley College and an MA in Communication from Stanford University. She currently lives in Bangalore.”
After looking into the souls of Brinda S Narayan’s characters, I felt this was just a bit too tame and complained that readers of a book so strewn with anthropology deserved a less clinical description of its author. She said:

I've always been a wide reader and I'm curious about how larger forces act on families and individuals. Having been a working mother for several years, I've also been fascinated by the interactions between life and work. Besides reading, I dabble with paints at a very amateur level. I'm married and have two kids.
I was now curious to hear about Brinda S Narayan’s next book, which I look forward to reading, but all she would tell me was
I'm currently working on a novel, and though it's too early to talk about the theme, I can tell you this: it's not set at a workplace.

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