D Murali

English and call centres

D. Murali | Updated on May 29, 2011 Published on May 29, 2011





‘Hinglish' is linguistically impure, yet stylistically global

English, especially in the call centre, is now only one among many skills that need to be mastered in order to be a productive subject of the corporation and the nation, writes Mathangi Krishnamurthy in one of the essays included in Chutnefying English: The phenomenon of Hinglish, edited by Rita Kothari and Rupert Snell (www.landmarkonthenet.com).

The essay contends that understanding everyday communication around the call centre is an important window into the globalisation of English and linguistic hegemony as contrary processes. Notes the author that while outsourcing as an industry has been made possible by the influx of global capital, its terms have had to be negotiated within the specificity of the locale, which in turn also becomes indelibly transformed in its wake. Arguing that in the case of the call centre the politics of English has been defanged in the service of a language that, minimally, gets by and, maximally, can be used in tandem and enhanced by a corporate selfhood, she concludes by stating that this selfhood is linguistically impure and local, yet stylistically global and communicable.

Another essay in the book is about online protests, written by Pramod K. Nayar, which opens by declaring that online campaigns increasingly replicate, extend, expand, and augment offline political action. Online campaigns, says Nayar, relocate political action into a new domain, where the very nature of protests is informed by the nature of the medium, characterised by links, home pages, blogging, and so on.

Taking on the criticism that online action and SNSes (social networking sites) operate in a limited space, staying at the level of discourse with little active social mobilisation, the author urges that we see how SNSes create a culture of dialogue and public debate, which are central to deliberative democracy. He avers that online activism and debates do move beyond the level of a discursive engagement into the public sphere of protests and political action by supplying information for public debate, drawing the attention of a wide spectrum of people, and transmitting complaints and opinions – all of which are key elements in any political culture.

Stimulating insights.

The entrepreneurship society

The story of Virmani Trust is one of the many enlightening examples in India: Land of a billion entrepreneurs by Upendra Kachru (www.pearsoned.co.in). Anil Virmani, who manages the institution, runs adult literacy programmes with the help of TCS. “By the juxtaposition of text, sound and picture on a computer monitor, we are able to teach illiterate women and children to read and write Hindi fluently in 45 hours. It might surprise you to know that it costs only Rs 500 per person,” is a snatch of Anil-speak, cited in the book. The trust also trains women in trades such as tailoring and embroidery so that they can be economically self-sufficient, informs Kachru.

Another example is about Richa Pandey's eJeevika, a venture incubated by the Rural Technology Business Incubator (RTBI) at IIT-Madras. “It subjects candidates to psychometric tests to determine which field they would fit in best. It then trains them accordingly and helps them become self-sufficient,” explains Kachru. ‘Jeevika' has been derived from a Sanskrit word called ‘Aajeevika' which means ‘livelihood,' narrates http://ejeevika.com. “The ‘e' in the name stands for learning through using Internet Communication Technology (computers, mobile etc). Thus ‘eJeevika' denotes learning through computers and earning a livelihood.”

To those who doubt the efficacy of training villagers and illiterates, there are clear answers in ‘The Kakinada experiment,' elaborately discussed in the book. The experiment, carried out in the early 1960s under David McClelland's guidance and with the help of National Institute for Small Industries Extension Training, was a groundbreaking effort in the field of entrepreneurship research and training in India, the author observes. “McClelland trained people in two towns (Kakinada and Vellore) and compared their economic growth to a control town (Rajahmundry)… McClelland used this experiment to show that a ‘non-entrepreneur' could also be achievement-oriented, persistent and creative…”

Imperative read.

Taking off with Twitter

If you had been near Paul Smith during his 30-day expedition facilitated by the goodwill of fellow ‘Twitter'ing social networkers, you would have known. He was wearing ‘the same pair of underpants.' For the rest of us, here is his book Twitchhiker: How one man travelled the world by Twitter (www.jaicobooks.com), which tells the tale about ‘an adventure wrapped in nonsense,' with travel and accommodation offered by people on Twitter.

“My rules didn't restrict my means of transport, but accepting long-haul flights at every step didn't sit easy with the spirit of my challenge… Both the US and Canada were teeming with Twitter users. I wanted to experience the hospitality of strangers and embrace the spirit of Twitter, rather than fly 9 kilometres above it at 900 km per hour,” he reminisces on day 3.

Towards the conclusion of the book and the project, Smith declares that Twitter proved without a shadow of a doubt that it is much more than a social network, but a user-defined infrastructure that can be harnessed to change lives and expectations, to share and enhance unique experiences and viewpoints. His key messages are that kindness is universal, that the whole can be infinitely greater than the sum of its parts, and that social media may begin online but it will converge with the real world whenever and wherever we let it.

A book that can tempt you to launch something similar through a decisive tweet.

Internet's dark underbelly

There is a dark underbelly to the diversity of content and services that the Internet has brought us, cautions Tim Wu in The Master Switch: The rise and fall of information empires (www.landmarkonthenet.com). “While there were once distinct channels of telephony, television, radio, and film, all information forms are now destined to make their way increasingly along the master network that can support virtually any kind of data traffic.

This tendency, once called ‘convergence,' was universally thought a good thing, but its dangers have now revealed themselves as well.”

What we currently have is an awesome dependence on a single network, the author reminds.

He emphasises, therefore, the vital need to preserve the network's openness from imperial designs.

A bizarre scenario painted in the book is that we could undergo a consolidation by a domineering empire blissfully unaware. Dazzled by ever newer toys, faster connections, sharper graphics, and more ingenious applications, we might be sufficiently distracted from the consequences of centralised control, Wu foresees. “And just as our addiction to the benefits of the internal combustion engine led us to such demand for fossil fuels as we could no longer support, so, too, has our dependence on our mobile smart phones, touchpads, laptops, and other devices delivered us to a moment when our demand for bandwidth – the new black gold – is insatiable…”

Recommended study.

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“It was a folly to get an e-Priest for solemnising the wedding…”

“Charged too much?”

“No, the system simply froze moments before the muhurtham!”

Published on May 29, 2011
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