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BW Businessworld

Outsourcing Uncle Sam

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Brinda S. Narayan weaves a tale of outsourcing with its shade of grey and black in her debutant novel Bangalore Calling.  The burgeoning BPO industry in Bangalore has created a mini-America on the Indian shores. It also provoked the US President into launching the slogan, 'Say No to Bangalore and Yes to Buffalo", while announcing an end of tax incentives to US companies which created jobs overseas. This book reflects why Indians have taken to outsourcing like a duck to water and why the world outside views it with suspicion.
This book is the story about the employees at the Callus call centre in Bangalore, juggling with false identities, dealing with abusive customers, and the coping with the tugs of family and community. It's a place where Seem can become Samantha and Krishnan Kutty can become Christopher Kutty. The novel held together by 15 interconnected short stories, actually captures the essence of outsourcing which comes with a huge human cost. Youngsters in Callus mindlessly pursue the all American dream, which in this case is to a get a foothold into the glass-bound hallowed halls of the top notch Bodmas call centre. The trainees shed their inherent values and culture like a snake shedding her skin in winters and emerge with Hail America caps and cross-pollinated dialects.

The author deftly weaves through the social downsize of outsourcing. She looks critically at the displacement of vernacular languages; the premium attached to American accents and of course the invariable erosion of cultures that happens subtly over time. Each character in this book hence reflects the enormity of these changes. There is Yvette, the Anglo-Indian trainer's mind who is aghast at the over-eagerness of trainees to to let go of their cultural roots without a murmur.   People who once sported modest braids and regular clothes now greeted her with punk hair colours and studded belly buttons in the cafetaria's line!! It was like a whole sea of cultural change sweeping everything in its path while she helplessly tries to fight this rising tide. Then there is the expat CEO who is flying blind. He tries to implement American HR policies in an Indian company and comes up against odds that flummox him.
My favourite story is the one about Bitty who has come out of a modest middle class home; her father is an Ayurvedic doctor and mothers a housewife. Her interaction with the most happening trainer of Callus changes her life. She gets caught up in the merry-go-round of low- waist jeans, expensive perfumes, jewellery and malls. When the ride ends, she ends up with a crushing credit card bills. Her parent's attempt to to pay off her debt enrages her and she reaches that level of her life where she starts believing that her own parents are her biggest enemy  and contemplates moving out. Will she be able to use her newly-acquired skills to survive life in the fast changing s of life?  Read this book for the sheer pleasure of a burning  topic of debate panning out into stories of human struggles and weaknesses. This book is a must-read.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 06-06-2011)