the Palolem Beach in Goa.
© Joe Gill.
Things seem to be hotting up a little now, an hour later,
although the music selection has been uniformly bad - Red, Red Wine by UB40
excepted and that's purely for nostalgic reasons as it reminds me of my first
girlfriend. It's Bryan Adams now, proceeded by Nirvana, Paul McCartney and Pink
Floyd. It's a 80s throwback. I realise that in India, like anywhere, a big town
can be lonely. Pune is 3.8m. I will go to Osho's ranch tomorrow, and check out
the Sanyassi's who I already know give me the heebie-jeebies (shiny eyed and
very serious looking people wearing orange saris who follow the late Rolls Royce
love guru who they say was poisoned by the Americans before he died in 1990.
I met a white-cotton attired middle aged Indian with John Lennon glasses who
said he knew Osho, and was pretty pissed off with America and everything to do
with the west, and had a strange line in stories which he found hysterical, and
an apparent litany of foreign girlfriends now gone. He used to be Osho's
gardener, proudly pointing out the plants he had seeded years ago in the Ashram
gardens. He drove me back to my hotel from a restaurant with a big joint in his
car ashtray, driving extremely slowly and in a snaking pattern, while ignoring
all beeps from other drivers.]
For the first time I see India's cool and sophisticated face. Young men and
women out on their own. Nobody here pays nobody no mind. I am just an English
fish out of water, in a pub called 10 Downing Street. I wonder if Tony Blair
would feel at home here - the tunes might be more up his street.
Photo. Burning Ghat at Varanasi. © Joe Gill.
The DJ keeps up the same selection - he plays not one but
two Billy Ocean records. I wish they'd play those cheesy breezy Indian Bollywood
tunes instead. They are so uniformly upbeat. As I nurse my drink I am befriended
by Krishna, who's a cool looking guy with goaty beard and silver neck chain. He
is out with his girlfriend Monica. Krishna is super friendly and his eyes smile
so strongly I almost squint. We get talking. They are neighbours who started
dating, they are going to get married. I feel wistful at their undisguised
happiness together. Krishna says, 'heh, Joe, what's happened? Don't give any
mind to the world.' He gets up and dances to Billy Ocean, and perhaps feeling
sorry for me insists I dance with Monica, and I oblige
Life at Palolem Beach in Goa. ©
Joe Gill. At the left photo a girl is running on the beach, and at
the photo to the right, boys are playing cricket.
He is from Goa, a Hindu. I tell him I am on my way there and he promises I
will 'freak out' with the drink, girls and drugs. Monica is doing a PhD in Eng
lit at Pune University, by all accounts the country's best (although another Eng
Lit grad I met at Benares University said Delhi was top for Literature).
Anyway Monica and Krishna are both call centre agent. That is the people who
call me most often while I am in bed at the weekend or as soon as I get in from
work. He works for a BT owned group, she works for a US company. Krishna tells
me that 20 % of his English customers slam the phone down saying they don't want
to talk to an Indian,' but 80 % are polite, and they appreciate the Indians are
doing a job and they don't use bad language. He is saying this not just because
I am English, Krishna assures me. Monica says the Americans are much ruder. They
use every bad world under the sun, "they refuse to talk to me saying I want to
talk to an American". Krishna recounts conversations with people called on
Sunday morning who are nursing hangovers and don't want to talk - as everyone
who's ever taken one of those calls can testify. One woman said to Krishna, 'my
boyfriend has just f***ed me nine times and I can't talk right now, I am
applying cream to my c***'.
|Photo. A temple in the Ellora caves in
© Joe Gill.
Monica, in similar vein, called an American woman in the middle of a Sunday
morning work out who, amid gasps and moans, showed a talent for multi-tasking or
indifference to her lover by insisting that Monica continue to describe the cell
phones she was selling, 'Go on, Go on'. Overall, it seems Americans were foul
mouthed and highly resentful, reflecting perhaps the greater anger over
outsourcing and off shoring in the States. Did all this make the work
unbearable? Apparently not. Despite the abuse, fake identities and unsocial
hours - America is 10 hours behind India so to call in the morning means working
at midnight - they both said they liked the job. Krishna said: "It's an amazing
job. You are talking to people in London, New York, Australia, it's like
travelling all over the world and making new friends from thousands of miles
away, every day.' He points out most Indians can't afford to travel abroad, so
this is a huge bonus for job satisfaction.
Monica said that despite both of them having to use false names, and
bizarrely provide a false surname to conform with call centre regulations on
customer service, it was quite easy to fool Americans into thinking she was one
of them. Many of her customers were actually Indian Americans concentrated in
Chicago, so a rapor was easy.
Krishna said the Brits knew he was an Indian not using his real name, and
sometimes insisted on the real thing. Monica's English is impeccable if
accented, she does a passable American accent. Krishna could make up for his
accent with pure bonhomie. As for the way the call centres pester people at
unsocial hours to maximise the pick-up rates on the calls, it did not seem to be
an issue for these two call centre workers, it was just part of the job.
With so many good English speakers in cities like Pune,
Bombay, and Bangalore, Maharashtra is the hub of the off shoring call centre
industry. If these two were at all representative, it is clearly a status job,
even though newspaper reports here speak of high turnover and depression among
staff who cannot cope with the abuse from western customers. These two were made
of sterner stuff it seemed, and Krishna certainly enjoyed those big
We made a dash for the door at 12.30am. I got a rickshaw home while
Krishna and Monica got on their scooter and looking like the cool kids they were
drove off into the equally cool Pune night.
Joe Gill, 26
Read more of Joe
Gill`s stories on our global travel guide Travel Explorations.
Planet describe India: "Nothing in the country is ever quite predictable;
the only thing to expect is the unexpected, which comes in many forms and will
always want to sit next to you. India is a litmus test for many travellers -
some are only too happy to leave, while others stay for a lifetime". For
more information, click on the link: www.LonelyPlanet.com.
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Presentation of the author:
Joe Gill is a
freelance journalist working in London, specialising in the non-profit
sector, international development and Latin America.
Photo. Joe Gill from England.
© Joe Gill.
Joe Gill, journalist, London 44 207 607 4120.
(H) 0207 6074120