Friday, January 28, 2005

The Call of the Call Centre Part 2

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 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...


  1. First. We in america are (possibly) much more inundated with the so called "culture of sex" and the lewd and crude. What you see on Indian television about American life is not the complete truth, just like what americans see on television and hear about Indian life is not the complete truth. They think we live chaste lives which "must be so boring" and we think every new york apartment building is a veritable orgy house. Bullshit.
    Yes. Eighteen is the legal age for consent and to be legally considered an adult. Nonetheless, you cannot do a lot of "adult" things even when you are eighteen. A lot of adult business requires people to be over 21 and then more, but you don't hear about that.
    If you remember my last comment, I talked about how teenagers sought out any kind of job they could get in order to get away from the boredom of schools. The fast food industry quickly grew to exploit that situation. There are only a few jobs where an 18 year old can be employed and be able to fend for himself....well. My friend Bilal works day and night at his job at our college library, but he barely makes even for his own apartment(shared with 3 others) and food.
    Again, most American kids aren't thrown out of the house when they turn 18. In the cities, yes there is a sentiment that kids should be able to provide for the family when they're of age, but in the rest of america i.e. not the cities, that community and family bond is still there. Again, emphasis on the 18 year old being able to provide for the family, that is still live in the house and give something back to his parents. Not any different from Indian kids. Except, if we're expected to act as adults at 18 then we also get the full privileges of being an adult (regardless of sex) which means having a car, (provided by mom and dad, insurance we pay), being able to go out of the house without asking permission and being expected to have relationships with other human beings. Some people mistake relationshiop for sex only, but that's a whole different can of worms.
    Statistics of american kids having sex, are usually taken the same way as in India, and adults are gullible enough to believe them.
    Nonetheless, young adults in america follow their parents just as well as Indian children, perhaps better. Increasing mobility in american society has perhaps given it a bad name, and sure there are bad communities everywhere in the world.
    Last thing I want to say is, don't blame the kids. The examples that I'm giving above, is assuming the parents have had a considerable influence on their children's lives (the good kind of influence) taught them the right things and so on. If you teach your daughter the right things in the right way, (and I'm sure you will), you'll see that she'll prove you right. I'm saying this from experience. I never realized how much of an influence my parents were on me until I went to college and started having a life of my own.
    Sorry for the long post. I've got to get my blog restarted.

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  3. hey,
    an impressive start for a series.. thought you'd come up with something more interesting but it looked like a second topic (sex)as main and the main (call ce..) took a back seat.

    Sex yes, is causing concern. Its something which is looked at as devine and devilish at the same time.. age matters.. but all this again is coming up to a proper bringing and attention that a parent should take care of. DINK couple start off well for money and then they decide for a child who is later taken care by a nanny.. wonder what he learns and how he learns.. with no proper guidence and having seen parents running to earn more to get a cozy life, he decides to get cozy somewhere else... that, i think creates a lot of problems.. half of the kids (my observtion) at the Sophiya's or Xaviers have been there and done that...
    A reputed girls hostel (??) at marine drive is known for the pick me up types coz they cant work at a call center and they still want to have a lifestyle which the other kid is having.. a hell of a lot of things that ways..

    Yeah call centers are providing some liberties and much needed independence (monetary and parental)still i'd emphasise more on what good is it doing to the kids?

    I'd appreciate if the call centers would tie up with some international educational institute who would give some education options (E D P types)or may be something more to add on to a personality rather than just sleepy eyes and stealing a smooch in a lift..

    The whole thing you said it right is for people from small towns with less options but you need to see how has it damaged the youth in the college.. most of them would rather blow up that money on wine and they'll always stand a step up from the peple in small towns for they are more exposed to the world (what ever it is). May be call centers could also come up as an option for retired (from job.. due with life!!)Guess they need it more than the youth who still need to concentrate on better things in life!

    We have so many people ignorant of basic facts .. Bipasha basu (though not a call center employee )for eg who says that Hitler started the Olympics.. or a recent telecast on a new channel where in youngsters didnt know what is it that the Republic Day of India stands for!! May be if they had concentreted on the basics at the right time, they'd had the correct answer!!!

    looking forward to your next in series

  4. Anonymous10:31 PM

    convenient stereotyping.
    don't see any figures to substantiate this vein of thought.
    I still don't see what the whole issue about sex is.
    sex is after all the second human basic instinct, after self-defense. and the times have changed. instead of writing such posts, maybe something on a larger scale to educate, accept, and support the youth, before, during and after such events. think about it.

  5. Great post i liked what you have written.I think thats what is actually happening

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