On the evening of 23rd January, 2018, the IC&SR building was abuzz with energy and excitement. The high-spirited atmosphere was befitting of the event scheduled for that evening: Prof Mathangi Krishnamurthy was to launch her highly-anticipated book, ‘1-800-Worlds’. A product of her PhD dissertation, ‘1-800-Worlds’ is a work in ethnography that chronicles the experiences of those employed within the gamut of the Indian call centre economy. The book is published by Oxford University Press.
The event began as scheduled, with students, scholars, professors and well-known faces from academia filing into Hall 3. Dignitaries including Dr. Karen Coelho (Madras Institute of Development Studies), Gouri Dange (novelist, counsellor and columnist), Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthi (Institute Director), Prof. Umakant Dash (Head, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences) and the author herself, Prof Krishnamurthy, took their places on the dias. The book launch was hosted by the jovial Karthik Kumar, who added his own personal touch to the event with his comic timing and his tendencies to conjure up light-hearted moments just as the proceedings were beginning to take a serious turn.
In true ‘insti’ fashion, the event began with opening comments from the Institute Director Prof.Ramamurthy began by expressing his curiosity about the nature of the call centre economy. He further commended Prof Krishnamurthy for successfully transforming the product of her research into a published work. Following this, Prof. Dash took to the podium to speak about his belief in the book’s success, evident from the combination of ‘academia and practice’ in the book.
This was followed by an excerpt-reading from the book by Ms. Veena Mani. Ms. Mani is pursuing a PhD from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences under the guidance of Dr. Krishnamurthy. The excerpts read by Veena covered a section of the book that dealt with ‘affective cooperation’- in which issues of race, class, nationality and grammar were traversed.
Dr. Karen Coelho then got to the heart of the matter by speaking about the book’s ability to capture public imagination through a strong focus on the agenda for today’s youth. She located the vital link between youth and employment and spoke about the expectations that the youth have from the present Indian government, with respect to jobs. She then presented a succinct summary of why she believes ‘1-800-Worlds’ ought to be read by everyone. According to Dr. Coelho, the book successfully captures the magic of the heyday of the call centre employment, thereby chronicling a dying moment in our contemporary history. Speaking about the relationship of the Indian youth with their work, Dr. Coelho said, ‘Their work becomes their world’, thereby justifying the title of Prof Krishnamurthy’s book. On the whole, Dr. Coelho made a compelling case for the book, terming it ‘a strong offering in ethnography’.
The penultimate speaker for the evening was Ms. Gouri Dange, who began by acknowledging that ‘1-800-Worlds’ was supposed to unsettle the reader. She believes that the book constantly makes the reader uncomfortable by helping the reader realise their role as agents in the process of sustaining the familiar. In other words, it is in the familiar that we find comfort and Prof Krishnamurthy’s book forces us out of our comfort zones. Ms. Dange then spoke about the style of presentation in the book – playful, and yet brutal in its narration. She also noted that the book successfully critiques several elements within the spectrum of the call centre economy without presenting any detail or observation in a disparaging fashion.
Finally, the author herself took to the podium to speak about her experience with the book. Prof Krishnamurthy was full of gratitude. She patiently acknowledged every individual involved in the process of writing and publishing. Although briefly overcome by emotion while recalling a personal loss that coincided with the event, she effortlessly switched back to being the energetic persona whose voice rings down the corridors of HSB. She concluded by warmly thanking her audience and heartily invited everyone for refreshments that would follow.
It was an evening to remember for Dr. Krishnamurthy as well as for her guests. As the book launch came to a close, there were some among the audience who eagerly made a beeline for discounted copies of her book that were available for sale outside the premises. As for the rest of us…let’s say we busied ourselves elsewhere with platefuls of delectable chaat and gajar ka halwa.
Report by Ranjani Srinivasan
Photographs by Ashraya Maria