Saturday night, Delhi border… Odyssey night club… the music is clearly local – bollywood and bhangra hits mixed with some popular songs from the 80s and 90s. Beer is flowing, bodies writhing and people generally seem to be having fun. The night club which is in one of the newer malls that have come up in Gurgaon, a dusty former cow patch, now a shiny suburban high tech haven, is one of the most popular destinations from those who work in the outsourcing/call center business. The place comes alive after midnight when apparently there is a shift change.
One thing which i saw was how young many of the call center workers are. They come from small towns which dot the landscape outside Delhi. If they lived at home, there would be no hope of ever finding a job. So they come to New Delhi. They live four to a house, sometimes more, and are driven to their subruban call centers in Toyota SUVs and most of the time eat there. They make about $500 a month, a fortune in local currency if you are young. They have a cell phones, and their accents have been replaced by their adopted accents. They wear expensive clothes, though they are not stylish. The dark circles under their eyes gives them away.
Here I got to talk to many who answer my phone calls whenever I have a question about my Amex Bill. Amid their sometimes drunken but polite arguments, you hear the cry for help. The constant pressure of trying to be someone else, faking accents and trying to deal with the abusive behavior of their customers, you find many are crumbling. The late nights, cooped up in cool but antiseptic halls, the call center workers are turning to drink, drugs and sex to find some meaning to their lives.
The next day I got to chat with one of the senior executives at a large outsourcing firm about this. Apparently this is not a problem being faced by the junior folks. Even executives are finding that their marriages are crumbling and many are having affairs. The whole thing is so dysfunctional, he pointed out and has been considering getting out of the business because the late night work shift does not allow him to spend any time with his wife and kids. And when I ask him when this call center bubble is going to burst – his response, not anytime, because economics are so good. He is getting out – as fast as he can.