After my final examination of graduation, sometime in mid-may 2006, I was a bird released from a cage after 15 years of engagement. I had so many plans. There was so much I wanted to do, but couldn't as I was always tied up with my studies. Now, I did everything I wanted to do, getting up at 10 A.M, taking bath at 1, spending the evening in a movie theater, shopping, window shopping, exploring the unknown streets of the city and so on.
I continued with this kind of relaxed, nothing-to-do life for around a month and was soon completely bored. There were still two months for my results to come out, and another one month for taking admission in some university. Dev, Sayantani and I decided on joining a call centre. We’ll get something to do till we join the university, and also we’ll have hard cash during the Durga Poojas. Cash!!! Sounds like music to the ears.Within 5 days we were parts of an out bound call-centre, Matrix Wells Entire Pvt. Ltd. Dev became Donald, Sayantani became Samantha, and I was Alice, as they, in the over-seas cannot pronounce Indian names, (probably kissing is the only thing their tongues can do actively).Being in an Australian process, (day-shift job) I didn’t face much problems in convincing Dad. I promised that I would leave the job as Soon as I get into the university.
My job was to sell CDMA/GSM mobile phones in Australia. Apparently, mobile usage was not as appreciated in there as it is in India. So, it was not a cake-job as I had presumed.The first week consisted of the training, as they call it The Honeymoon Period. After two days of budding up we were asked to make calls. The target given to us was 3 net sales per day. Not that every day I hit the target, I produced some numbers everyday. At times I delivered more than the target too. Working in a call centre is fun, if you are working for fun. The thing that I loved the most was the jar of chocolates. Things were going fine.
One Sunday morning, at the breakfast table, Dad extended the newspaper towards me. “Baba! Why are you giving the paper to me? I am not gonna read a newspaper of all things in a hundred million years.” I reminded my dad of my inborn nature. “I know baby. However, I want to tell you that your results will me out 3-4 days.” He said. Boy!! I had almost forgotten that I was a student waiting for my results. “No issues! I wrote a great paper.” I was confident, “in fact, I am glad, that it’s coming out.” Though, I wasn’t really that confident. I was a bit nervous.Two days before the result I took out the question papers and started a self-evaluation. According to my calculation, even the strictest of examiners would give me at least 54 in paper I, 48 in paper II, and a 56 in paper III. Now in literature honors they are considered, well above required. I began with paper IV. It was the first time I was evaluating paper IV's question paper. A hell of a boring paper it was. I ran my eyes through it.
Oh F***!!!! I ran my eyes again, and again. I couldn’t believe what I just saw. This is why, Mom says read the question paper well before you write anything. In section C, out of 8 questions we had two answer 5 questions. All carrying 16 marks. I knew seven of them. ‘Intelligent me’. I wrote answers, a, b, c, d, f. All difficult ones that nobody would attempt. An impressed examiner would shower me with more marks. But what I didn’t see then was what I observed now. There was a choice between questions ‘b’ and ‘c’. Those were either-or questions. Anyone was to be answered but I wrote both of them. Technically, I had answered 4 questions and not 5. I had answered only 84% of the paper and according to my evaluation I was getting 36. 6 marks less than the cut out marks. I pinched myself. How I wished that it was a nightmare. But I was wide awake.Ouch! I was wide awake. It was reality. It was my life, which I had completely screwed up.I was dead.
“When you are totally devastated, and there’s no way ahead, pray to the almighty. He’ll rescue.” My mom says this. Hopelessly I kept praying all night......
The following day was yet another painful day for me. I simply couldn't concentrate on the calls. My sales pitch, rapport building, empathy, AHT had all gone for a toss. Till lunch, I had no figures against my name on the white board. "It's okay Alice, don't stress yourself." my T.L. tried to calm me down when he notices me stressed out. "You’ll get a sale today" he continued. "That's very kind of you, Mark." I acknowledged his help. "But it's not the sales figure that is bothering me." I answered. "Then what's bothering you, madam?" he interrogated. "I...well....never mind!!!" I didn't know what to say. I knew saying wont help. "Relax! Come let's get going." he tried to be a motivating leader, extending a chocolate towards me from the jar.Again, I put on the headphone and started making calls. -
“No maid. Thanks”-“Thanks Darling, but no thanks”.
-“You Indians! don't you have better jobs to do”.
-“There must be a catch in this offer. I'd rather not go for it.”
-“Hm mm! Good offer. Call me tomorrow.”-
“I don’t understand your English”.
I couldn't crack any numbers till 4:30 PM. Okay! Enough! I am all screwed up and nothing can be done. I should now concentrate on my work. I reprimanded myself. After a cup of strong coffee, I came back to crack a few numbers. " Hello!” A shivering, puny voice received the call on the other side. “Hello! A very good evening” I started. “I am Alice from omeline telecom services. May I have a word with Mrs. Mary Johanson?”“Yes maid! I am Mrs. Johanson.” She replied."F*** Man! She sounds like a 70 year old. Anyways lets see if anyone else in her house is interested or not!’ I thought.“How are you doing Mrs. Johanson?” “Oh! If I keep all those senile health problems aside, I’m pretty good today, maid. How are you doing?” asked she so kindly.“I am very good Mrs. Johanson.” I replied, “thank you for asking. I represent Omeline Telecom services. We are the authorized dealers of the mobile phones of Belstra Ltd, Fedaphone and Roptus.” I began with my sales pitch. “Mobile phones? What are these, maid?” she asked. “Mrs. Johanson, mobile phones are small wireless phones that you can carry with yourself all the time.”“Can I go out with this phone?” she sounded interested. “Yes of course you can.” I assured her, “and be connected to all your near and dear ones, all round the day.”“Near and dear ones!” she sighed.“I had 3 sons. Young, handsome, strong. Very polite gentlemen of great potential. People would tell me, Mary’s sons will be shining stars one day.” Poor lady was praising her sons. I thought those rascals had left old mummy all alone at this old age.Okay! The salesperson in me was wide awake now. I’ll ask her to buy a phone for herself and her sons can pay for it...“Mrs. Johanson..,” she interrupted me ...”Oh! You can call me Mary.”“Mary, it seems your family doesn’t stay with you. .”“Ya! They are all shining stars.”‘’That’s great. You ought to be a proud mother. So why don’t you buy a Belstra GSM to keep you in touch with your sons?!”“I’ll buy your phone if it keeps me connected to my sons.”
‘Cooooooooooolllll! So I finally cracked it.’ I thought. I explained the famous $15 Belstra plan to her. She was a perfect ‘yes-yes’ customer. She loved it. “I’ll buy your product. Now tell me, what is it with you?”“Oh! Nothing Mary! I am fine” I wondered how she knew.“How old are you maid? 21-22. I’ve grand children of your age. Now tell me what’s bothering you or I won’t buy your gadget.”I tried to dotch the question professionally ,but was she stubborn or what! The duration of the call was already 35 minutes, my T.L was barging into the call and he asked me to give in whatever the lady wants and close the call. Well! Even I wanted to share with some one, so I gave in,” Mary, well between you and me, I am a student. My results are going to come out tomorrow. I am a bit nervous.” I felt a bit relaxed, but I wasn’t done. Then I went on and told her the entire thing. I bet she didn’t understand a bit of the Indian education system but she understood that I had some situation in life. “Oh maid, when you are in a total devastated stage of life, you should pray to the almighty and leave it up to him.” She repeated what my mother had been telling me ever since I had learnt to hear.“Mary! All these don’t help.” I said. “Alice my child, you seem to have lost hopes too soon.” said she. I didn’t say anything. She was my potential customer and I was not supposed to argue. I was trying to come back to business somehow. Just then she added, “Look! I am a 74 year-old woman. I lost my husband at the age of 21. It was years ago, I don’t even remember his face now. But at that time, I felt that the ground under my feet has been pulled away and I was sinking in the unknown with three little children.”
‘I need to close the call’ I was thinking. I interrupted her, “Oh Mary! I feel so sorry for the mishap...” she would simply not let me finish. She interrupted me and continued, “I only prayed to the Almighty, to give me strength to take care of my boys. After three years, I lost my vision in a deadly disease.” I didn’t know how to react, what empathy speech to deliver…I was quiet. I could see my TL still barging in. I decided to keep silent and let her speak.“You know, maid, I still didn’t give up. I kept praying to Him to protect my sons. I asked Him to take care of them and I am sure they are being taken care of.” As Mary paused for a while, I interrogated, “Are they not staying with you, Mary?” I couldn’t curb my curiosity. She laughed for a while and then said,” Didn’t I tell you, they are all shining stars.” ‘God! Does she mean…’ I thought and she started again, “My elder son was a fisherman. Very hard working. He would go into the sea early in the morning and come late at night. One fine morning he went into the see. Even before I woke up. He didn’t return. My neighbor’s son saw his shirt lying near the shore. But maid, I didn’t loose hope. I still had two sons and I kept praying for my son’s well being” My screen showed that the call was going a for about an hour and I had not fixed the deal. “My youngest son was sounding very happy on the day he was going for his honeymoon. I couldn’t see him but his joy was reflected in his voice. He went to Sidney. On his way back home he met with a car accident. I didn’t hear his voice again. Seria, his wife too died during child birth after eight months of James death. But she left the beautiful Katherine with me. Oh! She is a lovely girl. People say she resembles James.”
My computer showed that the call was continuing for 76 minutes. My heartbeat was rising. Not that I was heartless enough not to sympathize with the old lady. I wanted to know what happened next. Even my TL was barging into the call; as it looked from his face, not to close the call but to listen to the lady speak Both of us were clueless of what to do and what empathy speech to give. Her shivering voice was gradually becoming strong and confident. “Oh! I feel extremely sorry, Mary.” I tried to be empathetic. But she neither needed any empathy nor sympathy. She was strong. “I kept praying to the Almighty throughout. I knew someday he’ll respond to my prayers. And finally he did. In the month of August 1985, my son Edwin died of Tuberculosis. That was the end of my misfortunes. Nothing else to loose, no more tears to shed. All plights were over.” I was taken a back. “Since the last twenty years, I am living a life of peace and calm.” I was dumbstruck, and so was my TL who was barging the call. It was 110 minutes that the call was going on. “So, doesn’t the almighty listen?” she asked, probably sarcastically, or she had immense faith that I lacked. “Then why did he not listen when you prayed for your sons protection?” I asked her, my professionalism had completely gone for a toss. ‘Who cares I am for probably a couple of weeks more in this call centre’ I thought. “Because, I was being selfish. I was praying for my sons. The ‘I’ factor ruins everything. God doesn’t listen to selfish prayers. He responds to the selfless ones,” she explained. “But who will pray for me, selflessly. Nobody knows about it.” I asked innocently. It simply ran out of my mind that I was on a professional call.“I will,” she assured me,” you’ll come out with flying colors.” Miles and miles away was this lady whom I had never seen and will never see. She doesn’t even know my real name. Probably after this call we’ll never talk to each-other. But still she gave me a strange kind of comfort and assurance that I was badly in need of.“Thanks, Mary!” I acknowledged.“Okay! Know tell me, by when can I expect my phones. I will take six them. One for each of my grand-children.”“Within a week, Mary.” I told her the S.L.A. As I was not authorized to do the verification formalities, I closed the call from my end and transferred it to Albert, to take care of the verification part.So, I was the highest scored of the day. A bright six net sales.Next day I went to college to get my result. I was not scared or nervous. I was glad to see that I had scored high above the cut-out marks in all the papers, and a bright 56 in paper IV. ‘Probably selfless praying paid off.’ I thought.We had a small celebration at home that evening. Grand-pa, Grand-ma, Uncle-Aunt, everyone came.
I was finally a degree holder. An English honors graduate! During the breakfast break the next morning, at office next day, the MIS guy came up to me and asked me to call up Ms. Mary Johanson again. As she had instructed that the connections will be taken in the name of her granddaughter Katherine Johanson, we need to take her consent and office address. 'Oh! Great. I'll do that. I even need to thank her. Probably she paid for me.' I thought."Hello" this was not Mary's voice, I thought as an unfamiliar voice received the call at the other end."Very Good morning! I am Alice, from Omelime telecom services. May I speak with Mrs. Mary Johanson." I asked."May I know what it regarding?" she demanded from the other end."Sure. Mrs. Johanson has ordered 6 mobile phones in the name of her grand daughter Mz. Katherine Johanson. We would require her consent and her office address in order to process the request." I provided."I am Mrs. Katherine Johanson Forster. I agree to pay for whatever my grandmother has ordered." she accepted."I appreciate that. Could you help me out with your office address please?" I asked again."Sure. It's Peter Brothers Builders, 34/5; St. Anthony Lane; Sidney - 02.""Thank you, Mrs. Forster." I acknowledged. Though I was done with the needful, yet, I don't know why, I requested, "may I have a word with Mrs. Johanson?""I am sorry. But you cannot." Though she replied very calmly and politely, I didn't like her attitude. I was just about to give my closing speech and close the call when she unexpectedly added, "Actually, last morning, on her way back home from the Church, she had a sudden stroke.""Oh God! How is she? Is she alright?""She must be alright. She is with His Almighty." she replied in a subtle voice and hung up.