Authors: ARUN GUPTA
ONE NIGHT @ THE CALL CENTER
[Typeset by: Arun K Gupta]
This is someway my story. A great fun, inspirational One!
Before you begin this book, I have a small request. Right here, note down three
things. Write down something that
makes you angry and
you don’t like about yourself.
Be honest, and write something that is meaningful to you.
Do not think too much about why I am asking you to do this. Just do it.
One thing I fear:
One thing that makes me angry:
One thing I do not like about myself:
Okay, now forget about this exercise and enjoy the story.
Have you done it?
If not, please do. It will enrich your experience of reading this book.
If yes, thanks Sorry for doubting you. Please forget about the exercise, my doubting
you and enjoy the story.
The night train ride from Kanpur to Delhi was the most memorable
journey of my life. For one, it gave me my second book. And two, it is not
every day you sit in an empty compartment and a young, pretty girl walks in.
Yes, you see it in the movies, you hear about it from friend’s friend but
it never happens to you. When I was younger, I used to look at the reservation
chart stuck outside my train bogie to check out all the female passengers near
my seat (F-17 to F-25)is what I’d look for most). Yet, it never happened. In
most cases I shard my compartment with talkative aunties, snoring men and
But this night was different. First, my compartment was empty. The
Railways bad just started this new summer train and nobody knew about it.
Second, I was unable to sleep.
I had been to IIT Kanpur for a talk. Before leaving, I drank four cups of
coffee in the canteen while chatting with students. Bad idea, given that it was
going to be boring to spend eight insomniac hours in an empty compartment. I
had no magazines or books to read. I could hardly see anything out of the
window in the darkness. I prepared myself for a silent and dull night. It was
anything but that.
She walked in five minutes after the train bad left the station. She
opened the curtain of my enclosure and looked puzzled.
‘Is coach A4, seat 63 here?’ she said.
The yellow light bulb in my compartment was a moody one. It flickered
as I looked up at her.
‘Hub…’ I said when I saw her face. It was difficult to withdraw from the
gaze of her eyes.
‘Actually it is. My seat is right in front of you,’ she answered her own
question and heaved her heavy suitcase onto the upper berth. She sat down
on the berth opposite me, and gave out a sigh of relief.
‘I climbed onto the wrong coach. Luckily the bogies are connected,’ she
said, adjusting her long hair that ended n countless ringlets. From the corner
of my eye I tried to look at her. She was young, perhaps early to mid-
twenties. Her waist-length hair had a life of its own: a strand fell on her
forehead repeatedly. I could no see her face clearly, but I could tell one thing
—she was pretty. And her eyes—once you looked into them, you could not
turn away. I kept my gaze down.
She re-arranged stuff in her handbag. I tried to look out of the window.
It was completely dark.
‘So, pretty empty train,’ she said after ten minutes.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It’s the new holiday special. They just started it, without
telling people about it.’
‘No wonder. Otherwise, trains are always full at this time.’
‘It will get full. Don’t worry. Just give it a few days,’ I said ad leaned
forward, ‘Hi. I am Chetan by the way, Chetan Bhagat.’
“Hi,’ she said and looked at me for a few seconds. ‘Chetan…I don’t
know, your name sounds familiar.’
Now this was cool. It meant she had heard of my first book. I am
recognized rarely. And of course, it had never happened with a girl on a night
‘You might have heard of my book, Five Point Someone. I’m the
author,’ I said.
‘Oh yes,’ she said and paused. ‘Oh yes, of course. I’ve read your book.
The three underperformers and the prof’s daughter one, right?’ she said.
‘Yes. So how did you like it?’
‘It was all right.’
I was taken aback. Man, I could have done with a little more of a
‘Just all right?’ I said, fishing a bit too obviously.
‘Well…’ she said and paused.
‘Well what?’ I said after ten seconds.
‘Well. Yeah, just all right… okay okay types,’ she said.
I kept quiet. She noticed the expression of mild disappointment on my
‘Anyways, nice to meet you Chetan. Where are you coming from? IIT
‘Yes,’ I said, my voice less friendly than a few moments ago. ‘I had to
give a talk there.’
‘Oh really? About what?’
‘About my book—you know the just okay-okay type one. Some people do
want to hear about it,’ I said, keeping a sweet tone to sugarcoat my sarcasm-
‘Interesting,’ she said and turned quite again.
I was quite too. I didn’t want to speak to her anymore. I wanted my
empty compartment back.
The flickering yellow light above was irritating me. I wondered if I
should just shut it off, but it was not that Late yet.
‘What’s the next station? Is it a non-stop train?’ she asked after five
minutes, obviously to make conversation.
‘I don’t know,’ I said and turned to look out of the window again even
though I couldn’t see anything in the darkness.
‘Is everything okay?’ she asked softly.
‘Yes, why?’ I sad, the tone of my ‘why’ giving away that everything was,
in fact, not okay.
‘Nothing. You’ve upset about what I said about your book right?’
‘Not really,’ I said.
She laughed. I looked at her. Just like her gaze, her smile was arresting
too. I knew she was laughing at me, but I wanted her to keep smiling. I
dragged my eyes away again.
‘Listen. I know your book did well. You are like this youth writer and
everything. But at one level… just forget it.’
‘What?’ I said.
‘At one level, you are hardly a youth writer.’
I turned silent and looked at her for a few seconds. Her magnetic eyes
had a soft but insistent gaze.
‘I thought I wrote a book about college kids. That isn’t youth?’ I said.
‘Yeah right. So you wrote a book on IIT. A place where so few people
get to go. You think that represents the entire youth? She asked and took out
a box of mints from her bag. She offered me one, but I declined. I wanted to
get this straight.
‘So what are you trying to say? I had to start somewhere, so I wrote
about my college experiences. And you know the story is not so IIT-specific. It
could have happened anywhere. I mean, just for that you are trashing my
‘I am not trashing it. I am just saying it hardly represents the Indian
youth,’ she said and shut the box of mints.
‘Oh really… ‘I began, but was interrupted by the noise as the train
passed over a long bridge.
We didn’t speak for the next three minutes, until the train had returned
to smoother tracks.
“what represents the youth?’ I said.
“I don’t know. You’re the writer. You figure it out,’ she said, and
brushed aside a few curls that had fallen on her forehead.
‘That’s not fair,’ I said, ‘that is so not fair.’ I sounded like a five-year-
old throwing a tantrum. She smiled as she saw me grumbling to myself. A few
seconds later, she spoke again.
‘Are you going to write more books?’ she said.
‘I’ll try to,’ I said. I wasn’t sure if ever wanted to talk to her again.
‘So what is it going to be? IIMs this time?’ she said.
‘Because it does not represent the country’s youth.’
She stared laughing.
‘See, I am taking feedback. And now you laugh at me,’ I said.
‘No, no, she said. ‘I am not laughing at you. Can you stop being so over-
‘I am not over-sensitive. I just want to take feedback,’ I said and turned
my face away.
‘Well, well now. Let me explain. See, I just felt the whole IITian thing is
cool and all, but what does it all mean in the broader sense? Yes, the book
sells and you get to go to IIT Kanpur. But is that what it is all about?’ she said.
“Well, then what is it about?’
‘If you want to write the youth, shouldn’t you talk about young people
who really face challenges? I mean yes, IITians face challenges, but what
about the hundred and thousand of others/’
‘Just look around you. What is the biggest segment of your facing
challenges in modern India?’
‘I don’t know. Student?’
‘Not those, Mr. Writer. Get out of the student-campus of your first book
now. Anything else you see that you find strange and interesting? I mean,
what is the subject of your second novel?’
I turned to look at her carefully for the first time. Maybe it was the time
of night, but I kid you not, she was one of the most beautiful women I had
ever seen. Everything about her was perfect. Her face was like that of a child.
She wore a bindi, which was hard to focus on as her eyes came in the way.
I tried to focus on her question.
‘second novel? No, haven’t though of a subject yet,’ I said.
‘Really? Don’t you have any ideas?’
‘I do. But nothing I am sure about.’
‘Inte…resting, she drawled.’ Well, just bask in your first book success
We kept quiet for the next half an hour. I took out the contents of my
overnight bag and rearranged them for no particular reason. I wondered if it
even made sense to change into a night suit. I was not going to fall asleep
anyway. Another train noisily trundled past us in the opposite direction,
leaving silence behind.
‘I might have a story ides for you,’ she said, startling me.
‘Huh?’ I was wary of what she was going to say. For no matter what her
idea was, I had to appear interested.
‘What is it?’
‘It is a story about a call center.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘Call centers as in business process outsourcing centers
“Yes, do you know anything about them?’
I thought about it. I did know about call centers, mostly from my cousins
who worked there.
“Yes, I know a little bit,’ I said. ‘Some 300,000 people work in the
industry. They help US companies in the sales, service and maintenance of
their operations. Usually younger people work there in night shifts. Quite
‘Just interesting? Have you ever thought of what all they have to face?’
she asked, her voice turning firm again.
“Uh, not really…’ I said.
‘Why? They aren’t the youth? You don’t want to write about them?’ she
said, almost scolding me.
‘Listen, let’s not start arguing again…’
‘I’m not arguing. I told you that I have a call center story for you.’
I looked at my watch. It was 12.30 a.m. A story would not be such a bad
ides to kill time, I thought.
‘Let’s hear it then, I said.
‘I’ll tell you. But I have a condition,’ she said.
‘Condition?’ I was intrigued. ‘What? That I don’t tell it to anyone else?’ I
‘No. Just the opposite in fact. You have to promise me to writ it as your
‘What I said, almost falling from my seat.
Wow! Now that was something. Okay, so I meet a girl who appears