Aparna Parikh


11:30 p.m. | Urging my auto-rickshaw driver to move faster, I manage to arrive at my research site in Malad, Mumbai, in time to observe the change in shift of call center workers. This area of the city is lit up, as work hours are in full swing in call centers. There are numerous private buses and taxis lined up outside these call centers. These provide transportation for call center employees working the night shift, as mandated by Indian law. Each bus has a sign labelled with the name of the company and the neighborhood which is its final destination. As I stand watching, busloads of employees working for British companies, and according to UK shift times, head out. Shortly thereafter, buses and taxis with employees working for U.S. companies, and in U.S. daytime hours, arrive. This duration of bustling activity quietens, and I can observe more closely the numerous street vendors who line the streets on either side outside call centers.

12:45 a.m. | Its past midnight – past a time when I would typically be out walking around, eating street food, and interacting with people in public spaces in Mumbai. As a long-term resident of Mumbai, I assumed I have keen familiarity with several of its neighborhoods and culinary possibilities, but being out at night to conduct research around call centers has revealed new patterns and possibilities to me. Hesitantly, I interject in ongoing conversations between call center employees on the streets, attempting to get interviews. Most times, however, I wait around silently, drinking coffee and watching what is going on around me.


2:30 a.m. | As I stand casually chatting with a chaiwala (vendor selling chai on the street), I observe an abrupt shift in his demeanor. A brisk posture replaces a relaxed slouch as he lays out a row of glasses. He boils a large pot of milk and hurriedly prepares a dozen glasses of chai. As if in response to my seeming bewilderment, he explains that he is preparing for a crowd of customers. Pointing to a tall glass building opposite to us, he clarifies that it is time for a break in the shift of call center employees working there. Sure enough, there is a sudden onslaught of activity, as employees come out to grab a bite, drink some chai, and have a smoke.

2:40 a.m. | I sidle through, taking in the various food options available at this time. I can potentially choose between dosas, samosas, chutney sandwiches, biryani, and fresh fruit juice. Approximately every third stall set up on these streets sells cigarettes and mint. Cigarettes and chai seems to be the most popular choice. At the cigarette stall, I get into conversation with a woman working the night shift in outsourced call centers. She meticulously details out her break to me: She walks down from her office, buys a cigarette, lights it, smokes it through, drink chai, takes a brisk walk to the end of the street and back, walks back up, and resumes taking calls from customers complaining about their credit card bills: all in 15 minutes.

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