Tag Archives: Brinda S Narayan

An Interview with Brinda S. Narayan on Bangalore Calling

So here is another short interview with Bangalore Calling author, Brinda S. Narayan. You can read the review here

Why a book on the Outsourcing Industry?

I was working as a quality consultant with a few call centres and one of our key tasks was to sift agent voices on a scale ranging from ‘neutral’ to ‘high-MTI’ (high mother-tongue-influenced). And like Yvette, the Anglo Indian trainer in my book, I was seized by a vague discomfort by what we were doing. Surely, I thought, there must be psychological repercussions on agents as well as larger but more intangible social losses. I decided to take a sabbatical and study the phenomenon. Bangalore Calling is the outcome of my research.

2.      What is your opinion on the BPO Sector as it is today?

The sector has evolved like many other sectors on a high-growth trajectory. It’s certainly generating a remarkable number of jobs, by directly employing people as well as through secondary services to the industry.  And many centres are also offering higher-end services providing greater growth opportunities. But we should be aware that all these gains come with losses, and so while we sustain the gains, we also need to temper the costs.

3.      You know I have met so many people who think that the Call Centre Industry is not the right fit for a career. Why do you think that happens and how have you tried to incorporate and may be demolish this view through your book?

The job, like any other job, would be the right fit for some people and not for others. Some agents that I interviewed had gained vastly in confidence, with the newly-acquired speech becoming a passport into terrains that were inaccessible earlier. Others had become more self-conscious about speaking in their mother-tongue or in a mother-tongue-influenced accent.  I don’t think I tried to demolish any particular view about the industry, but perhaps I tried to highlight issues that most people weren’t thinking of.

4.      Brinda’s Top 10 Books

I do read a lot, so it’s difficult for me to create a top 10 list. I have many favorites and they’ve all been vastly inspiring in many ways. Anyway, here are some favorites in no particular order:

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go

Margaret Atwood – Oryx and Crake, The Handmaid’s Tale

Philip Roth – American Pastoral

Amitav Ghosh – The Glass Palace

Sunil Gangopadhyay – First Light

I also read lots of non-fiction.

Arlie Hochschild – The Managed Heart (her work on emotional labor was a huge inspiration for this book), The Second Shift

Sudhir Kakar – The Indian Psyche

Ashish Nandy – The Intimate Enemy

Ramachandra Guha – India after Gandhi

5.      If Brinda ever had to be a call centre head, the first 3 things that she would do?

I would sensitize trainers and the HR department about existing accent hierarchies and how such biases can be pernicious to victims. The onus of ‘satisfying customers’ does not rest with frontline employees alone, though they’re often the ones who have to withstand the brunt of customer emotions – and organizations need to be sensitive to that.

6.      What kind of research went through during the writing of the book?

My research was very intense. I interviewed 70 agents across three centres, I visited and interviewed several agent families. I spent several nights on call floors, listening into hundreds of live calls. I transcribed an entire two week training program. I had several notebooks filled with material before I started working on this book.

7.      Why Uncle Sam on the cover?

Uncle Sam was most famously on U.S. wartime posters with the caption, “I Want You.” Since Bangalore Calling deals with globalization and its consequences, and in particular the Americanization of call centre agents, I think the image depicts the phenomenon very aptly.

Bangalore Calling by Brinda S. Narayan

So I received my copy of Bangalore Calling from the publishers and I as I sat down to read it, I almost saw my life flashing by. I have been working in the BPO Sector for about 9 years now and if there is one person who could relate to the book more than anyone else, it would have to be me and of course millions like me who work for this sector. Before I start with the review, I would like to say something about this industry. It grew and it grew at a speed that was unimaginable. From the very famous and pioneer GE Capital International Services (now GENPACT) to IBM making its foray to WNS to many such organizations who probably have been built by scratch in this industry. The BPO Sector in its own way and alone has generated so much revenue for the country, that it is astounding. I will not bore you with the figures, however certain (mis)conceptions that people have of the so-called “Call Centres” need to change. Our work is not mind-numbing. It can get monotonous just like any other job. I remember when I used to introduce my profession in a room full of lawyers and meds and corporate men and women, I would get the look that questionned: Why? But well that is one part of the industry. The other part is displayed beautifully by the author in her book.

Bangalore Calling is but of course about the BPO Callus (fictional? – I would not say so as it is modelled after so many BPOs I know and am aware of) based in Bangalore and how its employees live their lives day in and day out. There are fifteen interlinked stories in the book, that make you sit up and take notice. The stories are about the call centre employees – from an agent to the manager to the cab driver – their hopes, dreams, zig-zagging through the hustle and bustle, the work demands and the need to make sense of everything at the same time. From the fake acccents adopted by the employees (Training anyone?) to the aspiration of a toilet cleaner working for the same organization. Different stratas of the society and the ability of the BPO Sector to give many such people the right to dream and want to make something of their lives.

The stories of Bangalore Calling are vivid and starkingly real. They bite you when you least expect them to and that is probably the defining feature of this collection. This is not a piece of America – the BPO/Call Centre that is. It is a slice of life as depicted in the book, rightly so. The book goes deeper than what is seen on the Outsourcing surfacing and may be that is the reason why I enjoyed reading the book besides the fact that I could relate to every story.

Bangalore Calling is a book that must be read by all with perceptions about the call centres in our country and how they function. The author’s prose is crisp and to the point. She sure does not run in circles. Her plot is tight and thankfully it does not get dramatic at any point. The book is well-written for sure.  It will sure help clear minds and introduce new perspectives. A great read for one.

You can purchase the book here

Here’s the book trailer and by the way there is also a review contest by the publishers where you can win Book Hampers…Please log onto: www.bangalorecalling.in

Bangalore Calling; Narayan, Brinda S; Hachette India; Rs. 295