Freedom at midnight
A good metaphor for the call centre revolution is 'freedom at midnight'. There are two opertaive words here - 'freedom', and 'midnight' and first, I'll put their significance in context for you.
It's a big, bad world out there
In the Western world, eighteen is an age where one is considered - and treated - as a young adult. Of course there are two sides to this story - you get to live life your own way, but you're also expected to fend for yourself to a large extent, financially and otherwise.
In India, 'kids' never really grow up in the eyes of their parents. Well, maybe by the time they're in their late 30s and 40s :) But certainly not at 18! By and large Indian parents are afflicted by the 'main hoon na' syndrome (I am always there for you).
Most are keen to protect their offspring from the 'big bad world' out there, not believing in the 'let them stumble and fall, then figure out how to get up again' way of life that young people naturally prefer.
And nowhere is this attitude more evident than in boy-girl relationships. OK, things have progressed to the level where having 'friends' of the opposite sex and hanging out with them in a group is fine. But officially sanctioned 'dating' and sexual intimacy - na baba na. That's not our 'culture', our maryaada (tradition).
A steady relationship may perhaps be aceptable if both the guy and girl are 'of marriageable age' and 'well settled'. But the operative word is they must intend to marry. The idea that a young person may go through a series of relationships before finding the right person or feeling ready for commitment is still not acceptable to most in this country.
Night out? Watch it on TV!
While parents can't really keep track of dayime activities, going out at night has been and continues to be an issue. Especially for girls.
One of course is the safety angle - which is valid. But two is the (also valid) assumption that the disco and pub culture leads kids 'astray'. ie they will drink, smoke and also get physically intimate. So many girls will say they're 'go over to a friend's to study' and then go out to party (the slinky clothes concealed under jackets which are tossed off later).
Keep in mind that unlike other countries, most Indian college students are day scholars. They still live at home.
Love (or lust) finds a way...
But necessity is the mother of invention. So young people find ways around the obstacles and kissing/ making out up to a point commonly occurs. It used to be Bandstand and other beaches/ sea fronts/ parks/ corner seats of movie halls. But things are changing.
In Mumbai, AC buses are a current favourite :)
These days you can also see PDA (public display of affection) - at least in Mumbai - at coffee shops like Barista, CCD and Mocha in broad daylight.
Whether these young people are going all the way or not is difficult to tell. When surveys are conducted a shockingly hight figure claim they have had sex, but then asking someone point blank is practically begging them to lie! Let's look at it a little indirectly.
The key factor is not intent - but opportunity. Where do you do it?
90% of college goers don't live on residential campuses - so no room of your own. Even hostels come with curfews, watchmen, wardens -especially when they house girls.
A few may have access to their parents cars - but it's almost impossible to park and make out without the fear of a pandu havaldar (policeman) knocking.
So the decision to have sex can't really be spontaneous. It has to be planned. You wait for your parents (or a friend's) to go out of town and leave the house empty. Or you actually go to a hotel, or some bungalow in Madh island. For which you need money, and ample time.
For all these reasons, I can only conclude that even among the few young couples who do become sexually active, it's a once-in-a-while phenomenon.
If it weren't so, surely teenage pregnancies and abortions would be much more prevalent/ talked about. Young people all over the world are careless about contraception - the fact that we have less of these problems simply signals that we have less of the activity in the first place.
How call centres come into the equation
When the young person starts working, that's when things start changing. This is true as much of a regular job, as a night shift one like at a call centre. There are now legitimate reasons to stay out late - and work related travel, socialising. This is the point when parents finally give up their vigil (for some it's also the time to start looking in earnest for a 'suitable match').
Now take the specific example of call centres. First, one is working with a roomful of young people who are not only workmates but the ones you hang out with most often. (the rest of the world, you see, follows a different time schedule altogether!)
So, attractions happen - it's natural. Only, this time opportunity also exists. In the words of a BPO employee, a typical romance goes something like this ......
"Most times, attraction builds up during the training period and starts blooming once on the Operations floor. For some it starts with sharing a smoke and then builds up to sharing other things too. Then there's a lot of begging to the Team leader to put him/her in the sameshift as the other half. But when do people get time to actually....umm....be together?
According to Rahul, who works at a call center in Malad (where else?), for stealing a passionate kiss, he along with his girlfriend, takes the lift to the top floor and back, which gives him approx. 30 seconds to finish the job. And I'll spare you the details, which I encounter whenever I take the stairs instead of the lift. "
Many call centre workers are out of towners, so they live as PGs or in shared flats. Hence access to these pads exists. Plus, even if you do stay at home and claim to be working on the nightshift when it's actually your day off and u are in lovely Lonavla - who's the wiser?
Parents, when they occassionally read about this kind of things in the papers blissfully choose to believe "mera bachcha aisa nahin hai" (my kid isn't like that). The young person is perhaps betraying their trust but can you really blame them?
In a world where we are surrounded by sex (remix videos, movies, advertising, soap operas, details of celebrity lives) can young people expected to remain chaste and just watch? The expectation is unrealistic and hence the response is less than honest.
Still, I would say, most of these young people don't indulge in completely casual sex. There is usually a relationship, with emotional attachment - sex being one of the components of that relationship. But yes, it is casual to the extent that both parties are aware that this does not have to be forever. Maybe, maybe not. And this, in India, is a change in attitude.
Whether this is 'good' or 'bad' - that's not for me to judge. It's certainly difficult for parents, and will continue to be. I am someone who strongly believes young people should be allowed to experience life and make mistakes....
Yet when I think of how I'm going to face these issues when my 5 year old daughter is a teenager, the plain and naked truth is - I'm not sure. Maybe I won't be that cool with it either...