The SUV drops me at Vashi station. The Vashi Infotech Park is just above it, a tired-looking structure in the evening sun. I can see it’s seven towers rising like some futuristic monument, no, some kind of tomb, I think. Manju, my girlfriend, and Satish, my friend, aren’t with me today. So, my mood is out. I climb the stairs alone to our floor.
I, Manju and Satish travel together in the vehicle to the outsourcing unit where we work. We stick to each other, perhaps, from habit. We have to. We also go for movies together. We smoke when we travel, and Satish sometimes bring something to drink, like Coke and rum mixed in a plastic bottle. We all sip from that only. We aren’t as high-funda as the rest of the call center gang. But we stick together and nobody bothers us. When they go for rave parties, we go to the movies or to a pub. Cool, na?
Our floor in the huge park made of granite is dirty; there are red spit marks. Dust and cobwebs hang everywhere. By the way, the inside of the call center is also called “floor.” The man - okay, okay, a boy, hardly my age - who manages the floor is called “floor manager.” From the tube lights the rays filter down through the cobwebs, the air is thick and musty. The elevator is nearby, but I don’t take it. It is littered with coffee cups, chewing gum wrappers, and tea bags. The roof of the elevator hangs down on a screw and, if it collapses, it can kill someone. Who cares? Life and labor are cheap, so, cool.
The Vashi station downstairs is full of flies. There is a steady rumble when the trains come in from Victoria Terminus and Thane and people disgorge like some fishing net being opened and the fish being let out. And they writhe like fish too. Really! A few dogs lie about in stuporous sleep. Wonder what they dream about, dogs, I mean. I think they are so lucky. Eat, sleep, eat, sleep, like there’s no care in the world.
People walk about listlessly. There are announcements booming from the loudspeakers. I can’t make out anything that is being said. A few policemen sit around and doze. They are supposed to check for explosives. Why aren’t they? I know they don’t have the guts to check me. They only check a few grimily clad individual from the villages who wear unwashed clothes. Then they ask them for money to let them go. Rascals!
Our boys and girls are playing cricket in the corridor. They aren’t supposed to, but they do. Who is there to stop them? The security men tried, but found the young, well-built boys too rough and smart. That’s how we are, rough and smart. The other offices have complained but it’s no use. How can they fight the gang of ruffians, rough- and wild-looking boys with strapping muscles? We all build our muscles. We all need to look good, like we are Salman Khans, or, the girls won’t even look at us. We all wear dirty baggy trousers and round frayed neck tee shirts. That’s okay, grunge is in fashion the more grungy we are, the better the girls like it. We wear our hair long, shoulder length, and often it is streaked blonde.
I meet Satish. He tells me that a new floor manager has been appointed and that he is very rude and aggressive.
-What’s it to me. I do my work and go home.
-He is going to f*** our asses.
-Then I f*** him back.
Almost all companies in the complex are named infotech this, or, infotech that. Information technology. That’s what they mean. Everything depends on one thing – information - and we are the guys who are giving information to the world. We, just out of college, our beards recently grown into goatees, hair long, our jeans dirty, our shoes grimy, working in the airless office we call “the floor” are the ones running companies in the US. Papa detests the look. But he is old-fashioned and wears safari suits and eats betal nut all the time, and, and spits on the walls. Yetch!
- Imagine me wearing a safari suit, I tell Satish.
- he,he,he, we laugh.
I still remember how papa threw a fit when I told him I was going to work in a call center. He is a hard and careworn man. He has laugh lines on his face like Martian craters, you know, like the ones through which - according to National Geographic - water used to flow at one time. Don’t ask me, I don’t know when.
He says I being his only son, and all, am going to inherit his spare parts business. He was just furious. I know. But I have my own ideas, compulsions. My friends were all in call centers and I wanted to be there with them. Besides the girls in call centers are really the forward types. They give. You know what I mean? They really, truly, give, not like the girls in our locality who guard their virginity as if it were some buried treasure. Not that they are virgins either. I know everything.
So I am picked up every evening at 7 p.m. and am dropped back in the morning at 8 a.m. by the ugly toad of a vehicle. But I have fun. The night shift is the best part of working in a call center. There’s lots of music and fun in the cafeteria, and my girlfriend Manju and I go and sit for some time on the ledge that faces the Thane Creek. She’s not the kissing kind, so I don’t force her. Yaar, you have to be careful with these girls, you know. And she wants protections when we do “it.” It’s okay with me. Some “infection-vinfection,” she says. See, she doesn’t want to get them. What the f***, if that’s what she wants, man, then that’s what she gets.
Satish and I have a drink from a coke bottle before our shift starts. I can hold my drink and nobody in the office knows we are drunk. I make calls. I am super-confident when making calls. In fact, the drinks make me confident, that’s my secret. “Yea, partner,” I high-five Satish in the office. After all, those idiots who are sitting in America; they can’t reach out and slap me through the phone wires can they? So I assume the persona of “Steve Smith” and I talk unhurriedly, spelling out each syllable as if the man or woman at the other end is some dumb f***all creature. I make them calls, calls, calls, and when it’s break time my girlfriend and I join the gang playing cricket, or, badminton, and we have fun.
And I see the new floor manager as he comes out of his cabin. He seems as if he is in a big hurry. All he can talk is targets, targets, targets. Man, he is smart, an MBA type from the ayeayeyem, as Satish says. He gave us big, big lectures on productivity and rate per seat and income and overheads. Lots of bullshit, we all laugh. Don’t say all that crap to us. We know you people are fooling us, cheap labor, huh? Talking as if we don’t know, eh?
Sometimes around that time, I don’t know when, Manju tells me she is going to leave the job. It seems the new floor manager spoke rudely to her when she bungled a call. I am shocked. I am so like crying, crying, you know! I am so very sad, sad only. Also, her parents don’t like her working.
-Even my parents don’t like me working in a call center, I say.
-The new floor manager is a madman, yaar, I don’t want to work with him. But we will meet, you know, Sandeep.
-Yes, we will meet, sure, how can I forget you?
She cries. That day we go out to the multiplex to see Spiderman3. She cries and cries a lot burying her head in my chest. I haven’t seen anyone crying so much. I don’t even watch the movie. Why are women like that? My mom also does that. Man, you should have seen her when grandfather died. It could have filled buckets. Honest, man.
That night when I go to office, Manju isn’t on her seat. I feel like my heart has been torn apart by a nail driven into it. So much pain in life, no? I can’t bear it. I cry inside but keep working. That’s when the new floor manager calls a meeting with all of our team leaders and us. He says production is down since we are making less calls. Fewer calls mean, less money, as simple as that. Less money, he pauses, means he is going to cut seats.
That’s what he calls us, “seats.” As if we are some wooden benches made by some carpenter. A**hole he is.
That day I am so upset, I forget to call Manju. She also doesn’t call me. When I got home my papa is again in the lecturing mood. I look at his balding head, gray hair, laugh lines that run crazily over his face. He sits there in his boxer shorts and lectures, and lectures. Do I want to be like him?
-At your age I was going from office to office hawking spare parts. I didn’t have a shop or an office then.
-So what, papa? I can be better in this line than you. Look at my manager. He draws a salary of 100,000 a month. I know I am much better, he is such a freak.
-What did you say? “Freak” where did you get that word.
-That’s how we talk dad. F***ing freak.
That got him so mad she started shaking.
-Get out of my house. I don’t want you here.
That pisses me off. I then go to Satish’s house in a huff. We go out and drink a beer and smoke some ciggies. (Yes, that’s what we call cigarettes.) And we drink a lot of Coke with it and eat a lot of chicken. It’s like this only when we are upset. We have all good, good things when we are disturbed. It makes us feel good. Then I remember Manju and call her.
-Manju sorry I didn’t call.
-You should have called, no, yaar? Don’t wait for me to call; you know things in office aren’t that good.
-How am I to blame? I was mood out, no?
-What mood out, mood out? What are you doing at home? Sleeping all day?
-None of your business.
-Don’t talk to me like that. Arre, what happened to you, you were not like this only, no?
-Sorry, Sandeep. I wanted to tell you earlier. Now, I have another friend.
The cellphone beeps. She has disconnected. I tried calling again. She just disconnects. I send short messages. She doesn’t reply. I am mad with anger. I don’t know what all I call her. I curse her. I send a messaging calling her a bitch. She doesn’t reply. I guess it’s the end, end of our relationship.
That night I sleep in Satish’s house, as he has a room to himself. Next day I go to work from Satish’s home. I can see his dad and mom don’t like me the way they look at my frayed jeans and loafers. What do they know that it’s the fashion these days? I bought this torn jeans for twelve hundred and fifty bucks, yaar. What do they know these old buggers? A**holes, like my papa. Thinking they are so nice because they dress nice and clean? And they think I am a bad influence on their son’s life? I can feel their hatred. They really hate me for spoiling their son. As if their son is some saint or something. He is the one who brings drinks to the office.
I go to the call center. I am depressed because of the incident with Manju. But I concentrate. I got to achieve the target so the company gets money. At midnight I get a call from that short, skinny little girl in human resource.
- What’s the problem, I am working.
- Can you come please? She says it urgently.
They are so polite, “please” and all.
When I go to her office, she is all nice and asks me to sit down. I sit facing her. I know something is up, or, going to happen.
-Well as the Manager-sir said we are cutting down on seats. That word “Seats” again.
-I know. I am cool.
-We have identified you as one of the unproductive seats. I am sorry.
I feel like grabbing her hair and punching her face. But I control myself. What’s the use? At least, I am out of this dump. I coolly come back, high-five my friends and say I quit. I am cool. I write a resignation and mail the short, skinny human resource girl.
It’s not the end of the world after all. Let Manju go her way; I will get a hundred girls like that every day. I will miss playing cricket in the corridor, and the pizza parties, however. I don’t mind. I am okay. I have my options. I can join my dad’s spare parts business. I might wear safari suits and even eat betal, and leave those long red spit lines on the walls one day, who knows?