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We Are Like That Only January 13, 2016

Posted by Gomathi Reddy in Culture, Desi Indian, Language.
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A few days back, there was this call asking me for my PayTm wallet details. My alarm bells were ringing – This must be a hacker/spammer, it screamed. Then I calmed down. Actually I get into this tizz as soon as I hear this Call Centre Bihari Bhaiyya Hinglish.

All these support centers from the north of India, have personnel responding with heavily accented Hinglish.  Blame it on my being a pucca South Indian, most often, I really don’t understand what they are saying.

If I, a true Indian in every sense of the word, can’t make much of what these Bhaiyyas talk as Microsoft Support and PayTm credits, I wonder how native English speakers are expected to make sense of our accents. Whatever happened to those Anglicized Babus responding as Johns and Jacobs to support calls, from off-shore centers in India, for all those cost-cutting MNCs?

Well, it’s okay to have an accent – Its kinda sweet.

Even Native English speakers have what I’d call the “blah, blah, blah” accent – When you watch them on television, sub-titles always help….its kinda cute in a way, when they grimace and muff and puff to say something as simple as “What?” – Oh! there they allow their body language to take over;

And then I love the Latin Americanos oodling their songs for an international audience, or simply croon “U Donth Undhersthand whath we are sayiiinggg” – oh, I love that too – its kinda Spanishy-sing-a-song in a way;

And then there is the Afro-West-Indian English of “Yeah, yeah…we donth dhu it dhath way. Its dhifferenth. Yeah?” – even conversations in a family setting come across a bit international, cross cultural and corporate-ish. I  am tolerant of all this, because these are not folks working in a call center trying to provide support for a product I purchased. And to their credit, I must accept that they are tolerant of my accent too, with a rate of delivery at over 32 words per minute, with a joke interspersed somewhere in between, which leaves them waiting for me to end a subjective conversation, while I am waiting for them to

And then comes the Gurgaon Call Centre Bhaiyya. He’s nothing like any of the above. He’s a breed apart. I understand his greetings. And then there are bio-chemical changes within my body and behavioural changes to my temperament….then my ears get sharper, my mobile goes closer to my ears, and I am trying to peer at that invisible person projected on my wall, and I try hard to lip-read his accent in all earnest. I pride in being tolerant of accents. You see, I am a Tamil,South Indian.

And then comes the disappointment. I don’t catch what he’s saying. My mind is screaming…I need an installation manual of “THE Accent” while I am asking for instructions on why I was unable to verify my MS-Office. By now Bhaiyya is asking me to repeat a few steps, which I’d already done, and then he goes back to repeating the same undecipherable Hinglish, in reduced pace, because by now he’s convinced that I am an Extra Terestial (ET) who’s highly unlikely to understand anything about the earthly Microsoft. He’s now switched to the premium, preferential treatment in a flat-yet-patronizing tone because he’s sure I must be one of the firsts from an UFO to have paid for an MS-Office, that’s pirated and available for free everywhere on earth.

By now he’s got his supervisor by his side, asking him to repeat the same steps at 5 words a minute…its something like an old LP record that has lost its groove and
dragging on, and you are terrified at the prospect of having to wonder if this is a song from Majroo Sultanpuri or S.P.Balasubramaniam, when all I want is to verify my
licensed copy of MS-Office. And they go on and on, and I finally throw up my hands (and etiquette) to the winds and bang the phone. So much for being a Support Center!! I
am sure by now, they’re discussing this call from an ET, and making a case study out of it.

I switch the television to watch Shahrukh and Deepika celebrate the stereotyping of Tamilians in Chennai Express, and Lungi dance touted as the top number since its release in 2013.


Comedian Mahmood – The quintessential Tamilian of Bollywood

This movie was no different from the stereotyping of the Tamils in Mumbai even in the black-and-white era, where there was always a vibhudhi-smeared-kudumi-vacchcha-brahmin (ash-smeared-tuft-sporting-brahmin) played by comedian Mehmood dropping the “aiyyos” and “Ramas” with a Nadaswaram to beat, every 30 seconds. And not to forget those fat, dark skinned, rotund Dravidians, working their mustaches as their lungis threaten to fall off their bellies, playing the side-kicks for the fair and handsome Bollywood villain!!

For all those Bollywood movie watchers, everyone down South is a Madarasi and we all speak “Aiyyo-Thamizh.”

Along with them, we too laugh at our caricaturing – Yeah, we are like that only.

And if they joke about us, so what, it really doesn’t bother us; we are pretty comfortable in our skins – Yeah, we are like that only.

We’ve always been the tolerant ones, so much to the point that we never even knew we were being tolerant. We were always happy that we’ve given the North Indians some fodder for laughter, if not for thought.

Is it time for us to stereotype the Call Center Accent of the Gurgaon bhai?

Is it time that we had some scripts circulated on what we feel about the North Indians and their Hinglish? Anybody out there? Let’s give them some food for laughter, if not for thought.

Do you have something interesting on this topic? Would you like to share your experience with a Call Centre Bhaiyya? Please share your story here.

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