He was one of 1139, one of 1139 who stood in miserable queues
in the Madras heat and rain of a hundred listless afternoons.
And he was the one; he was the one whose American language
and culture classes paid off the most. Vishram was the one taken
after a dozen interviews, after reciting American adverts and after
not forgetting his new and improved call center name.
Vishram was dead and Steve was born, Steve with the accentless
English of the American Midwest, Steve with the voice of a disinterested
news anchor, a voice without inflection and emotion.
And it is a voice worth four hundred dollars a month, a voice
for an American and British company with a large and cavernous call
center in a row of cavernous call centers between the makeshift
slums and financial and technical districts of Madras.
There was little training; really, there was nothing technical
involved, it wasn't a company that sold any products. In fact, it
was a company that sold nothing.
"We are a collection agency," the fat and rotund
shift supervisor told Steve, a flabby and mustached man of silk
shirts and polyester pants called Mr. Ahmed and Steve thought little
of working for a Muslim, even though his father would be infuriated.
After all, this Muslim was paying him four hundred dollars
And so Steve started without any training. He was assigned
a small desk with a headset and a keyboard and a computer screen
full of American and British phone numbers with names and ages all
And they were all old, the names with the ages attached.
They were all 75 or 80 or older.
"When you call," explained Mr. Ahmed, "you
ask for a donation, a donation to the Heaven Fund, and then you
must to make sure you get their credit card number, and then you
type in the credit card number and wait for the balance of their
account to be displayed," and Mr. Ahmed's fat and ringed fingers
deftly typed in a bogus number as an example.
"And once you see the balance of their account, you
charge their card for the maximum."
"Yes, yes, most absolutely."
"What if they only want to give a few dollars to this,
this Heaven Fund?"
"It doesn't matter. Once they donate, they are no longer."
"What do you mean, no longer?"
"You will find out, and most importantly, if they don't
want to give, hang up right away, most immediately. We are not bullies
here at the Heaven Fund, we are professional!" and Mr. Ahmed
left Steve at his tiny desk as he made his way to his large and
elevated desk at the front of the call center. His large body sat
in a leather backed chair and he started to read the newspaper as
the call center buzzed with the sounds of American English and the
typing of a hundred different keyboards.
Steve dove right into his work with enthusiasm and a sense
of relief. His American classes cost a lot of money and his father
was convinced that the money was wasted and the dream of working
in a call center was the equivalent of one chasing after fool's
But Steve proved him wrong; he got the job and he had six
nights a week with twelve hour shifts to prove his father wrong.
Not to mention four hundred dollars a month, more than double
the amount his father earned hawking chai outside the police headquarters
He started calling, he started calling and he set out to
be the best representative of the Heaven Fund that he could possibly
Even though he wasn't sure what the Heaven Fund was.
And funny enough, none of the old and withered British and
American voices even bothered to ask about the Fund. They either
said no, or they nicely obliged as they assumed they were being
solicited by some sort of charity.
And of course, no one guessed that Steve was calling from
across the world, despite the static nature of his American and
And when they agreed, these people in Derby or Maine or Kent
or Kansas, he typed in their account information. He typed in their
account information and read the thank you from his little script
taped to his desk.
And then he pressed a button, a button that sent a shrill
and intense and piercing scream through the wires and across continents
A scream laden with words that were undecipherable but so
effective, a long and piercing scream that caused the elder on the
other end to drop the phone and fall on their kitchen or living
But Steve didn't know this; he didn't hear the scream, he
heard nothing and after a pause he would just disconnect and go
on to the next name on the list, Bill in Boise, Ethel in Essex.
And then, Steve had to ask, he had to ask after his first
shift was over, after Mr. Ahmed shook his hand with enthusiasm.
"Well done, Steve-O!" Mr. Ahmed said as his fleshy cheeks
were forced wide with an exuberant grin. "Not bad for the first
day. You collected from over fifty people and raised fifteen thousand
dollars. You may get a nice bonus on your first check if you keep
"What is the Heaven Fund?" Steve asked in a voice
that was a cross between the Madras accent he was born with and
the bland Midwestern English that was the embodiment of Steve.
"Oh, it is a campaign fund for various British and American
politicians, and I must say, they appreciate our work," Mr.
Ahmed replied and he patted Steve on the back as Steve left the
call center so very, very proudly.
He couldn't wait to tell his father about the successes of
his first night on the job.