“Hello, this is Sandy speaking, how can I help you?” I pushed the words up my nose, tried to manufacture the twang we are encouraged to have, to make us sound more American. It could have been Sally. But doesn’t Sandy sound closer to my name Sandhya?
“I’ve been trying to get a reservation, need to get from Iowa City to Boston for Thanksgiving weekend and your damn airline has all these blackout dates for frequent flyers.”
Phones flash and buzz in the 40 cubicles in this tiny room, each operator twanging to their clients in Iowa, Missouri and New York, tracing paths from one place to another where we have never been. The late shift is the busiest, the time most people in America are doing their business.
“Sir, I will try to make the reservation, please give me a minute. What is your good name, sir, and your frequent flyer miles number?” Oops, I shouldn’t use terms like “good name,” stick to American expressions only, that is what the training manual says.
“My frequent flyer no. is XXX-YZZ.”
“Can you repeat that again please, sir.” When these people speak with all their different American accents it is hard for me to get the numbers correctly.
“I said XXX-YZZ. Is it so hard to follow.”
“Sir, you don’t have enough miles for the trip.” I have to cut the call soon. I have to spend no more than three minutes per call otherwise they may replace me if I don’t make the quota. I wish I could visit Boston or even Iowa, all these cities. Daily I am booking these people, and I haven’t even been outside Delhi and Gurgaon, Haryana.
“Dammit, can I speak to someone who understands real English, someone without an accent.”
Be patient, never get angry at a customer.
“Sorry, sir, my manager is busy. But if you want to pay by credit card and make a reservation I can do that, sir.”
“Where are you, in some goddamn Indian city? I will file a complaint.”
It is 3 a.m. now. At 5 a.m., the bus will come. I can go home. At least I make more money in a month than my father did in six months working as a government clerk all his life. And we need money to buy jewelry for my elder sister’s wedding and for my mother’s blood pressure medications. Maybe later I can buy some T-shirts like all those Americans wear even if I can’t visit America.
Maybe, maybe one day some Sally sitting in Iowa at midnight will say, “Hello, I am Sandhya, how can I help you? Yes, you want to go from Trivandrum to Mumbai; let me see how to book you.” At least I can dream, even if Lakshmi doesn’t answer my prayers tonight.