A Thousand and One Nights at the Call Centre

Anjali Puri in The Wire:

Mathangi-Krish-OneKrishnamurthy’s 1-800 Worlds, The Making of the Indian Call Centre Economy brings to life the world of young people working phones all night, trying to be intelligible and efficient to sometimes irate customers in Europe or North America.

At the heart of the book is Krishnamurthy’s own four-month stint, while she was a doctoral student, as a voice and accent-trainer at a leading business-process outsourcing (BPO) outfits in Pune. She assumed an American accent for her job interview, worked through the night, and lived the call-centre life so intensely that she was eventually sad to leave.

Her book traces the divergent narratives that formed around the transnational call centre industry which took root in India in 1998, boomed in the mid-2000s and then began to decline as multinational corporations found greener locales for voice-based operations. While industry and government extolled call centres as an advanced solution for literate populations in newly-liberalised countries, media focused on the cultural alienation and exploitation of workers. Consumer-goods and advertising companies avidly eyed young employees earning more than twice as much as comparable Indian workers – leading to other debates about the supposedly hedonistic and promiscuous lifestyles fostered by call-centre work.

This study – a scholarly work that is also deeply empathetic and at times playful – illuminates this heady, fraught world without simplistic narratives or judgement.

More here.