One Night at the Call Center: A Novel Paperback – May 1 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
This bestselling Indian import feels more like a half-baked business-inspirational tract than a novel, as if a washed-up motivational speaker wrote a spec script for The Office and set it in an Indian call center. The prologue sets up the novel as a story told to the author by a fellow passenger on an overnight train to Delhi. Perennially put-upon narrator Shyam Mehra is denied a promotion and learns his ex-girlfriend and current officemate Priyanka has agreed to an arranged marriage with a man in Seattle. Another friend and colleague, Vroom, hates the job and their boss, but likes the money. Co-worker Rhadhika's marriage crumbles after she learns of her husband's affair. And Esha feels guilty about what she's done in pursuit of her dream of being a model. Meanwhile, they learn that the company they work for has decided to lay off workers and that their boss is taking credit for work they've done. And then, the hook: God calls, offering the crew a four-point plan for success. Lackluster writing and a preachy tone cripple what could have been an interesting premise. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Business has been lagging lately at Connections, the Delhi call center for a large U.S. computer and appliance company. Twenty-six-year-old agent Shyam, known to his American callers as "Sam," is less concerned about his career than his breakup with coworker Priyanka. (She recently consented to an arranged marriage with a wealthy Indian expat.) Sam's other twentysomething colleagues have troubles of their own: aspiring model Esha takes desperate measures to secure gigs; Radhika suffers humiliation at the hands of an unfaithful spouse; and Varun, aka Vroom, drives at dangerous speeds to cope with personal and professional distress. The bane of the staff's existence is their jargon-spewing boss, Bakshi, who blithely assumes credit for his employees' work. One particularly tense evening (which happens to be Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.), the Connections staff take a break from the office--and receive a life-altering call. Bhagat, an investment banker based in Hong Kong, renders engaging characters and a provocative premise. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
All this is set against the alien (for North Americans!) backdrop of New Delhi's new middle-class struggle. Crazy drivers, drinks that cost a weeks' salary, and the joys of a family trying to arrange a marriage are all part of the picture. Bhagat is one of India's best-selling authors at the moment, and it's worth picking this up just to see what the world's biggest English-language market is reading.
That being said, the book itself has a good deal to say, especially about the quest for confidence and life-direction. Each of the characters in the book is actually on such a quest. Priyanka, the protagonist's girlfriend is struggling to make her parents happy through an arranged marriage. Another minor female character struggles with her desire to model.
And then, BAM ! - right in the middle of everyone's little drama, God calls. And this is where things really get interesting...
Ask yourself - if God called you, what would you have to say about your hopes and fears?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I enjoyed the story and the writing style, although I thought the "phone call from God" plot twist toward the end was rendered with all the subtlety of a self-help book (I'm surprised God didn't number the "valuable life lessons" for our convenience).
Forgiving that, my main gripe with this book is that neither the characters nor the author seemed to quite grasp the aforementioned "valuable life lessons".
The reason I say this is that in the story, Americans are portrayed individually (as callers into the call center) as fearful, lazy, stupid, warmongers who unfairly enjoy a better lifestyle than Indians - and collectively (in the form of corporations) as the personification of evil, unfairness and oppression. And so, the characters' economic problems are blamed on the selfish, stupid Americans who oppress them. Fair enough - every story needs a bad guy.
But yet, even after God shows up on the scene and dispenses the aforementioned "valuable life lessons" (take responsibility for your own lives, stop blaming others, stop making excuses) Americans (and the boss, as a stand-in for the Americans) are still the scapegoat, and the characters use their newfound self-confidence and perspective on life to exact REVENGE!!!
Now, to me, vindictiveness (even coupled with the loftier goal of saving the call center) seems incongruent with psychological well being and a tip-off that maybe someone doesn't fully understand those "valuable life lessons". And so I actually considered at length that perhaps the author's true intention was to convey the self-defeating nature of blaming, complaining and not taking responsibility, by showing the characters' hypocrisy - how they suffered from an inferiority complex and psychologically projected their self-loathing onto America, their perceived oppressor. (After all, the very name of the protagonist with the most wounded inner child - "Vroom" - could be a symbolic reference to his materialistic nature and the conflicted way in which he simultaneously condemns and worships western culture).
But ... strangely enough I was left with the bizarre impression that the author himself was blind to the disconnect between the lessons the book extolls and its underlying whinyness and racism, which raises the disturbing question of whether the attitudes in the book were meant as those of the characters or of Indian youth - or worse, whether they are in fact the attitudes of the writer himself (I hope not).
So overall, I enjoyed the book for it's portrayal of the youth culture in India, but even more for the bizarre, psychological conflicts which it represents and which I'm still puzzling over.
... and as a final note, one last thing that I found disconcerting was that the setup for the story (While travelling I met someone who told me this story and it was so compelling that I had to meet the characters and turn it into my next novel)is an obvious copy of the setup in "Life of Pi" - which I imagine the author must have read, since it was a huge bestseller having to do with India.
DISCLAIMER: If in fact the author's intention was to point out the hypocrisy of claiming to take responsibility for one's life while simultaneously plotting revenge against one's imagined oppressors, then TOUCHE'! - because with this book, he is then not blind to his own predjudices or merely pandering to the attitudes of the disaffected Indian youth market, but rather is holding a mirror to their face and challenging them to recognize how their own attitudes and predjudices may play a part in holding them back while and letting them know that by healing their own collective psyche they will be able to rise above whatever systemic conditions conspire to oppress them.
I am an Indian who has lived in the US for 13 years and recently came back to India. I have seen people abusing their own people here...especially the maids and other low paid workers. I don't think Mr.Bhagat has any clue as to what he was talking about racial abuse. Indians are the world's biggest discriminators and we should clean up our own backyard before mud slinging somebody else's.
Some parts of the book delivered some good humorous comments. To me, the form of narrative was similar to his first book Five Point Someone. I think Mr.Bhagat should stick to what he has experienced first hand and make stories of that.
Good luck and hope for a better performance in your next book.
The author tackles some bigger issues such as how the West treats poor countries like India and how their youth has sold out their country to take on the material items of the west. This book argues the point of how well educated hard working people in one country are worse off than the lazy stupid people in another simply because of where they were born. Chetan Bhagat does write this sort of stuff well without preaching to the reader, as he points out through the a well flowing storyline that these characters are all in the predicaments they are in because of themselves as well not just where they were born.
A few unrealistic occurrences in the plot and I doubt Vroom's solution for the call centre will work. The only major downside is obviously Chetan is a religious man and a passionate one at that. The ending and a middle chapter of the book have unrealistic situations and author uses this book as an opportunity to preach to the reader about his beliefs. Now normally I would recommend just ditching a book that does this despicable act but the rest of the book is high quality and if you know this is going to happen and just roll your eyes at these preaching paragraphs then you'll still enjoy this book. I'll definitely check out other work by this author but if he preaches his beliefs to me again in his next book as well that one will be my last.
Other sensational hilarious behind the scenes of a poorly run company or coping with bully management books are the novels Syrup and Company by Max Barry. The novel Beauty of Truth by Bruno Bouchet and Being Alexander by Nancy Sparling are also must reads.
I recently spent 5 months in India in Bangalore and, admittedly, anti-white sentiment is widespread. I found people were warned off socializing with me as "white girls" had a reputation as promiscuous and immoral. So, in a way, the book is an accurate account of the people it is trying to portray. The question is whether or not they should be proud of that.
I'm not American and I'm not a big fan of a lot of US foreign policy but a book containing so many sweeping anti-American statements laid out as fact made me incredibly uncomfortable. It is disappointing that so few people seem to feel the same way.
The comments on Americans were lame and totally uncalled for. It's very juvenile and not expected from someone of Chetan's education and exposure. I am an Indian and have lived in the US for 13 years and recently moved back. I have seen more Indians since my coming back, to be rude, insensitive and disrespectful. They way some of them treat the maids and low paid workers is utterly shameful.
We are by far the most discriminatory society than any other. Which other nation discriminates among it's own people on the basis of religion, caste, state, language, dialect, sect and subsect, color of skin and gender? Why do obssess over a light skinned and light eyed female celebrity?
The book has taken a very flippant attitude towards the west. Calling them "fat, loud, thick and divorce all the time" was a demeaning dig at Americans. And that too in front of God. And God seems to be in agreement to those adjectives.
Chetan must be living in a make believe Indian world...in Hong Kong. It's time he saw a Bollywood movie or soap serial or a reality show or even listen to the news and find out how loud and unclear we are about everything.
Good luck with your next book.