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One Night at the Call Center: A Novel [Paperback]

Chetan Bhagat
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 2007
Press 1 for technical support.
Press 2 for broken hearts.
Press 3 if your life has totally crashed. . . .

Six friends work nights at a call center in India, providing technical support for a major U.S. appliance corporation. Skilled in patience–and accent management–they help American consumers keep their lives running. Yet behind the headsets, everybody’s heart is on the line.

Shyam (Sam to his callers) has lost his self-confidence after being dumped by the girl who just so happens to be sitting next to him. Priyanka’s domineering mother has arranged for her daughter’s upscale marriage to an Indian man in Seattle. Esha longs to be a model but discovers it’s a horizontal romp to the runway. Lost, dissatisfied Vroom has high ideals, but compromises them by talking on the phone to idiots each night. Traditional Radhika has just found out that her husband is sleeping with his secretary. And Military Uncle (nobody knows his real name) sits alone working the online chat.

They all try to make it through their shifts–and maintain their sanity–under the eagle eye of a boss whose ego rivals his incompetence. But tonight is no ordinary night. Tonight is Thanksgiving in America: Appliances are going haywire, and the phones are ringing off their hooks. Then one call, from one very special caller, changes everything.

Chetan Bhagat’s delicious romantic comedy takes us inside the world of the international call center, where cultural cross-wires come together with perfect pathos, hilarity, and spice.

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Product Description

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.

From Booklist

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

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4.0 out of 5 stars wonderful Aug. 31 2011
By shaheda
Format:Paperback
I read the preview to this book and was curious! but what took me by surprise was the very ending!! the train-encounter was so much fun..left me very entertained. Chetan writes very clearly; I felt as if I was viewing a 'Bollywood' movie, complete with suspense, drama, romance and if I listened hard..yes, even a song!! Cannot wait to see it picturised into a film!! Good job, Chetan! Keep on giving us more!
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Format:Paperback
This is the premise of Chetan Bhagat's One Night @ the Call Center. Describing the trials and tribulations of one shift in New Delhi's many IT call centers, the book catalogues the main character's fall into adulthood. The hero is a young not-so-confident Indian middle-class boy. Struggling for a better career and to win back the lady he loves, Bhagat's book describes a few stops along the hard and long road to believing in yourself.

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?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.9 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting insight into the tormented psyche of either Indian youth or the author - not sure which... Jan. 29 2008
By Robert Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This quick, engaging story about the problems in the lives of six call center workers in India, portrays the plight of young Indians who in their desire to move up the socioeconomic ladder, ironically find themselves exploited by a distant and uncaring American corporation and restricted by outdated cultural traditions.

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.

and finally...

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.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre piece of work April 16 2008
By Annapurna Saripella - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Chetan's second book..One Night At the Call Center...is a mediocre piece of work. The narrative is very similar to his first book..Five Point Something. Chetan should stick to what he knows best and what he has experienced first hand. This book about call center lives is very superficial. The only thing you know is that the characters have call center jobs. But the rest of the story is about their personal problems and personal crisis..even that is so mundane. I was expecting something more in-depth about call center jobs.

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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts good but then becomes boring with lame ending Aug. 12 2008
By ReadersRUs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This novel does give a glimpse of call center life. That is a new lifestyle in which mostly young Indian workers go to work in the night with 2 AM meetings; plush with money, exposed to opposite gender at night, indulge in amorous activities; are stressed out and angry at Americans who gave them the job in the first place. I don't know how much of that is true, but it is quite depressing.

The author's language attracts reader with its simplicity and contemporary nature. He does grip you for first 100 pages. After that it becomes boring. There is a dramatic event which brings a twist. But in my opinion, the author couldn't complete the novel in a realistic manner. Don't want to reveal what happens, but whatever happens is unrealistic and lame.

The attitude shown towards American is disheartening. The author portrays them as dumb and arrogant, which exposes his (and call center employees') lack of understanding about Americans. It is true that some people treat call center workers with disdain. It is also true that some people are clueless. But duh ... if someone is not cluless and happy with service why would one call a call center? "Gee I totally know how to operate my washing machine but I still want to spend time to talk to a call center agent".

Overall I love Chetan's style. It is easy reading and to some extent entertaining. I absolutely loved his first novel. So there is a good potential for him.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting to read for its "view from the inside" May 3 2007
By global music collector - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read this book with great curiosity because I'd heard about this novel for a long time (while it was unavailable in the USA) and I thought it would be interesting to read the perspective of some call center workers in India. I wasn't disappointed.

Their awareness of their low salaries (as compared to their American counterparts), the social differences between their culture and the USA, and the often-poor treatment they received from many of their customers (and their manager) was no surprise. Their day-to-day work issues were not unlike may others: fear of layoffs, incompetent managers taking credit for their work, pressure to increase their productivity, and technology breakdowns. And their struggles with some old-culture traditions -- like arranged marriages -- made the story more interesting.

I could have done without the intro and the ending to this novel -- which is an additional storyline that takes place in a conversation between the author and a female passenger. In my opinion, these intro and outro parts added nothing to the story and even made it a bit cheesy at the end.

All in all, I recommend it...it's a fast and entertaining read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good April 11 2009
By Evan Boehler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I am not sure why this book receieved some of the crticism it has, to me it was a work of fiction and the statements, to the extent they are racist on their face, were not intended to be racist as oppossed to working in the context of the story (at least the way I read the book.)

The book starts off with the author on a train when he meets a woman who has a story to tell, with the caveat that if she tells the storry the author must write it. During this time he makes it clear in many ways that he is parodying himself at the same time to the extent that she was not in awe off his prior success of his first book and how he sets that up. To me that set the tone for what followed.

We then get into each of the charactors and personalities. What they want to eat or wear, or whether it is worthile to carpool on a given day. Some of it is mundane, and perhaps the charactors are not fully developed, but each of them have their place in their personalities.

As to the issue regarding how Americans appear, it is not that far from what people should expect. Not saying that all Americans are warmongering lazy people, but once again in context - this is a call center to answer questions and address problems. Needless to say people calling in will often be rude or short because they are having issues and problems. They are frustrated.

And people on the receiving end will then develop impressions based on that. It seemed to convey to me in fact the charactors were limited by theeir preconceptions and devloping predjudice. How they react to the message given to them by God also is telling in the context of everything else that had gone on up to the point.

The book is a quick and easy read and good general fiction with some good funny lines. I guess it depends on how you approach the book. I do not think the author was trying to write something as a political statement, instead he was juxtaposing things in the context of fiction and often the actions taken by the charactors to not mesh up with their words. Which seemed to be the point of it all.

Of course if the author is in fact anti-American and was just trying to make an anti-American humor writing, then in that case I am giving him too much credit.

4-5 stars, and I think 5 is worthwhile based on what I thought the book was trying to accomplish.
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