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One Night @ the Call Center    by Chetan Bhagat order for
One Night @ the Call Center
by Chetan Bhagat
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2007 (2007)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Have you ever been connected to a call center in India? I was once, for technical support, and found it a frustrating experience. Now, in One Night @ the Call Center, we share that experience from the other end of such calls, and see what those polite young professionals think of the scripts they read from, and the (often irate) customers they attempt to placate. The novel's protagonist gives us their perspective: 'there are ten smart guys in America. The rest call us at night.'

Shyam Mehra is a call-center agent who leads a night shift group - that deal with 'troublesome and painful' customers of home appliances - at the Connections call center in Gurgaon, India. He hopes for the position of team leader that his sleazy boss Bakshi dangles in front of him like a carrot, delegating many of his own responsibilities but telling Shyam he's 'not a go-getter'. The love of Shyam's life is Priyanka - also one of the group. She's dominated by her mother, and she and Shyam continually snipe at each other. We see glimpses of their (failed) relationship interspersed through the book as Shyam looks back on past dates. Shyam's 'new semi-girlfriend' Shefali is on the day shift - his friends mock her annoying habit of babytalk.

Radhika spends her days doing household chores, cooking, and catering to her very traditional mother-in-law, before working the night shift. Esha, 'the hottest chick at Connections', wants to become a model, but is a little short. Military Uncle, the oldest member of the group, is retired from the army and estranged from his son, who now lives with his family in the United States - Military Uncle desperately misses his grandson. Shyam's best friend Varum, known as Vroom 'because of his love for anything on wheels', is a rebel and also unhappy about his parents' separation. Vroom and Shyam have developed a troubleshooting website (they may have done too good a job as calls have gone down ever since) and have just finished the website manual.

As the story begins at US Thanksgiving, the rumor flies that call volumes are at an all-time low and Connections is doomed, with lay-offs imminent. Through the night, various dramas unfold amongst the tangled lives of Shyam's call-center team - including Priyanka's announcement that she's agreed to an arranged marriage with an expat Indian professional in Seattle - causing each of them great distress. Finally, expecting to be laid off in an imminent meeting with Bakshi, they take an unauthorized break, and end up in a very dicey situation indeed. It's then, at one of life's dead ends, that each of them takes an 'inner call', considers what they really want from life and what they can do to change things.

So, one night at the call center, the worms finally turn. They teach Bakshi a well-deserved lesson and save the call center from downsizing by exploiting 'Yankee Fear'. In a very satisfying ending, they move on to live happier lives and make the effort to achieve their dreams. Shouldn't we all?

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