It was in the year 2004.I was fresh out of High School.Having been successfully kicked out of both my dad’s and mom’s houses,I need a job.I wanted a job that would pay me well, and that wasn’t anything like the dumb ‘Tour Operator’ work I used to do for my dad.God answered my prayers and the BPO boom happened in India.
Back then,call centres weren’t as popular.I was looking for a job that didn’t require travelling and I thought this one fit the bill perfectly.On hindsight,I should have realised that if a person named his company “Ripplesoft Ltd.”,he couldn’t be serious about doing business.(Whenever I told anyone where I worked,they would give me a smile,thinking the name had something to do with the female anatomy !!)
But I was desperate then.So after the initial interviews which I could clear even in my sleep (“Tell me something about yourself?”,”What is a call centre ?”),I was given the job.
I was the youngest guy in the office.Everybody was as confused as I was,having no clue as to what was going on.I got to meet a lot of interesting people.Krishna Khandelwal (Kishu-an awesome person,and a really good friend ),N.Debashis(who sang really well).There was Jitendra ,who was built like Hercules but had a brain like Obelix.
There was Lakshmi Narayan.He had come from Berhampur,and was an MA in English.There was Surya Narayan,44 years old,half bald and fully mad.He pissed off anyone who came in his way.There was Raj,who was to get married in 6 months and so wanted a job ( The last time I spoke to him,he said “Bloody girls,all they want is money,they don’t care about feelings”,so I think he is still unmarried).There was Debashis Patnaik,a cool dude Engineering student who was always doped.Monika and Barnali (both pretty but unfortunately elder to me ).There were a lot of other people too,each thinking that he or she was better than everyone else.
Our team leader(TL) was a guy called “Sam” (Santosh Rawat ).He had worked at IBM,Delhi and was all enthusiastic about giving back to his motherland what he had learnt in life.When the poor guy saw the standard of the guys he was supposed to train,I swear I saw tears in his eyes !! It happened like this :
On the day of our ‘Orientation Class’,he wanted to judge all of us.So,he asked us one by one to come up to the whiteboard and speak about “My Latest Crush”.
The first guy went up and spoke ” I…we…basically…recently, me and my mother had to travel in Konkan Express.We were late and so couldn’t get tickets and so we boarded the General Compartment.There was a lot of rush and push.People were fighting for a place to sit.We had to stand and travel.This was my latest crush…”
When he finished,Sam,me,and Kishu were staring at him with our mouths wide open !!
He was asked to sit,the next person was asked to speak.Sam gave her instructions in his Delhi acquired American accent :
“Wotcha doin’,man ? A crush is something that you feel for someone you like or admire..”
The girl,Nivedita went up to speak.She was a student who was doing her BA in English.She started off :”Uh..well..basically…my latest crush is William Shakespeare.I really love his writings…”
We continued to stare.She was asked to sit.The next girl was sent to speak.Her name was Santoshi.Sam gave her instructions too :
“Watcha guys doin’,man ? How can ya have a crush on Shakespeare? You have a crush on someone you know,someone you like,you see everyday,you like to be with…”
The poor girl who was already terrified out of her wits and was able to understand exactly half of what Sam was saying because of his accent,proceeded to speak, “Eh…I…my latest crush is my Father.I love him very much..”
“Go and sit” shouted Sam. I think the trauma was too much for him to handle.He never seemed the same friendly guy ever again after that day !!
After the orientation was done,we were given accent training for a month.We Indians speak with an Indian accent.The plan was to first teach us a neutral accent and then proceed to the British,American and Australian accents. Its pretty simple,actually.The basic difference between ours and their accents is that we pronounce the hard letters really hard.The letters ‘p,k,b,t’ are actually pronounced as ‘ph,kh,bh,th’ by Americans.Try using only these 4 letters and you will sound like an American anyway.Then there are the subtle things like rolling the ‘r’ s ,and intonations and all that.
But the guys there made it seem like Rocket Science.We were shown films,made to listen to tapes,taught theory about vowels and consonants,and made to have boring conversations with each other in our fake accented English. This confused some of the guys.Like Jeetendra.He had started saying “Ma namez Zitendar” and twisting his lips in wierd positions everytime he spoke.His accent wasn’t okayed and he was made to shift from the US process to the UK to the Australian process within a month.All this caused him to panic so much that he inculcated bits of all the three accents and was a complete mess by the end of it all.
One Saturday,he stopped me saying, “Whay o goin’ Munzay ?”
“What ?” I asked
“Whay o goin o Munzay ma ?
After 5 minutes,I figured out he was asking me “Where are you going on Monday?”
After the training was over,we were to ‘hit the floor’,which meant we had to start taking calls.But before that,we were to choose Pseudonyms (fake English names )for ourselves.Now,you’d think that the guys would give themselves common,everyday names ? No. While me and Kishu rechristened ourselves Sean and Mike, the other guys were fighting over names like “Randy Orton,Pierce Brosnan,Shane Bond’ and what not !!
After a week of taking calls,Sam realised that none of the guys’ calls had lasted for more than 2 minutes in the entire week.So he decided to find out why.He listened to all the recorded calls.A typical call would go like :
“Good Morning.This is George Michael and I would like to tell you about some of the offers we have for you today..”
And the guy on the other end would say “Yeah,right.I am Tom Cruise and you can shove them up your ass…’ THUD !!
Later,all the guys were forced to use more common sounding names.
Well,things took off.But we all knew it was disaster from day one.The management was abysmal.The security guard was being paid regularly whereas we weren’t.But it wasn’t all that gloomy.You see,hope keeps us alive.And some of the guys were really cool.Kishu,Debashis ( the doper) and me always hung out together and sometimes went off to the beach after the night shift.All the guys in a batch would fight over one Gold Flake cigarette and everybody would get exactly 2 puffs each.It evoked a feeling of brotherhood that I cannot describe here.But the timings were erratic.
We took great pride in saying “I work in a call centre”,but the truth was that it was already 2 months and we were as close to being paid as we were to sounding American !! Gradually,things started to worsen.Some of the guys started getting agitated.Our new TL,Kumar Raja was too busy screwing one of the girls to give a rat’s ass about our salaries.Some of the guys had come from other towns to work.There was one guy who would only have the dinner provided in the office and survive on a packet of Tiger biscuit all day.He later told me,”This is my last option,yaar.I am a post graduate.I have been convincing my parents that I want to do something else.If I am not able to do anything this time,I will have to go back to my hometown and do what my parents ask me to.”
Finally after 6 months of toiling and ruining all the known accents in the world,we decided enough was enough.We all resigned. How much was I paid for all the work ?
Me and Kishu got 1000 Rs, and the other guys got 500 Rs each !!
Yeah,the money was scarce,but I loved every moment of it.