Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Happy Independence Day, Katlin

It was the 58th Independence Day, but not a holiday. Everyone was present in the office. It was very difficult for a BPO like ours to declare it as a holiday, since our American client wanted the work to be done very urgently and 15th August is in no way a holiday in America. If you are a BPO employee in India, working for an American client, you can have holidays on July4, Thanksgiving Day, Boxing Day, even 9/11 but not on 15 of August. Though it was not a holiday, there was an air of celebration all around. In the bays, tricolor flags (made up of recycled non-biodegradable refuse) were fluttering atop every computer. It was a wonderful metamorphosis; the plastic bottles which were carrying coke, Pepsi etc. are transformed into tricolors.

"The proceeding are about to begin" announced a cute-looking girl, holding the microphone in her manicured fingers, satisfied with her own dress and the Yorkshire accent she had cultivated so carefully.

"Due to time constraints I request the production manager to address the gathering ...."

The manager strolled up to the podium. There was a lull and then calculated words started pouring in, "Guys, we live in India but work in the U.S.A. that's why we are here at work even on our independence day. We should take pride in the fact that we are the ambassadors of a great cultural exchange, because we represent an amalgam of the cultures of East& West ...” He went on about client – requirements, cooperate adherence, and the position of India as a BPO destination. It was like a carefully nuanced plea in a first- class court by an intelligent attorney to ask the judge to overrule all the dissidence. And the Intelligent, English-speaking talent pool exhibited themselves as impeccable examples of cooperate-adherence.

At the end of the speech the gathering clapped and cheered. But Gotham’s Hands were frozen, He could not clap. There was time when a uniform-clad 14-year-old boy would clap to every speech that was delivered on this day and cheer every missile that was displayed on the T.V. “I don’t find any meaning in celebrating Independence Day in a historical juncture where nationalism is a camouflage for bellicose and belligerent patriotism” Goutham said to himself in an interior monologue like that of a Shakespearian character. The man stood next to him wore a puzzled look and walked to the area where sweets were being distributed. The pictures of massive exodus after the partition, a smoke-fuming Daryaganj Sikh home, a domeless masjid, the riot-prone streets of Indian metros, all flashed past Goutham’s mind.

“Faster guys the audio files need to be downloaded and must be processed at the earliest ” the floor supervisor announced. Everyone collected their sweet-packets and sat in front of their systems. The first file for Goutham was a Gynecology file. Yankee English flowed through the ear-phones. “The patient is a 15-year-old Mexican-American, female college student who is being treated with reference to urinary infection. She is sexually active with multiple partners, but seldom uses condoms. She is on Orthonovum birth- control pills. She appeared to be a very
distraught young lady and was concerned about the possibility of having contracted AIDS… The patient also has a history of paternal sexual abuse……… ” “Yes we are the ambassadors of a great cultural exchange indeed!” Recalling the production manager’s speech Goutham said to himself.

Goutham’s fingers moved on the keyboard unknowingly, words appeared on the monitor. Files completed encrypting stagnated life into it as time wore on. Documentation of death and disease! Euphemistic transliteration of sexual pervasion! Fitting job for a postgraduate in English literature!

Goutham had already completed his files and was about to leave his cabin when the floor- supervisor approached him. “Goutham I have pasted one more audio in to your folder and hope that it will not be an inconvenience if I ask you to extend a bit and complete the file” Goutham obliged for he had already learned his lessons about flexibility at work place and from the tone of the statement G0uham knew that it was not a request that required his consent. He opened the audio file. I was a file from Dr, Gary L. Trock; the pediatric Neurologist of the University Of Michigan.

The file started playing: Discharge summary………………… correction……………………..death summary ……..”Goutham did not like transcribing death summaries because it reminded him of his own ephemeral existence. “Patient name: Katlin Miller ……Kilo …Alfa…. Tango … India …. …” the file continued giving detailed accounts of the last moments of a 6-year-old little girl. Gouthams hands moved like a machine on the keyboard. He started panting and sweating ……..ctrl+s…. files got saved…….

A few hours later Goutham found himself awake in his bed. The cheap liquor he had had from the bootlegger to fight insomnia did not help him. Katlin kept him awake, for he had known her quite long a time. It was Goutham who transcribed all almost all her medical documents right from, her initial diagnosis at the pediatric department of University of Michigan as well as the numerous follow-up files. The files unfolded the story of a 6-year-old blue-eyed girl who had met with an automobile accident and received severe lesions on her brain. There was acute bleeding too. She was battling death while her parents were struggling to get funds for treatment. While the clients were waiting for the judicial verdict on the insurance claim, death made no mistake in claming its victim. A lesion in the optic region of the brain improved death’s tally.

When he was transcribing those files Goutham had th0ught of Katlin as some one very close to him. He used to imagine a little 6-year-old girl walking through the flower-filled valleys of the Royal Oak highlands. Now that picture came back to Goutham’s mind with all its intensity. Getting up from his bed Goutham cried out; “Katlin you are not dead! You are just lost in the eternity of time and the immensity of space”

The scream made the software engineer next door awake. Standing at Goutham’s doorstep he queried, “Goutham are you drunk? “ No I am lost…..” Goutham replied. The firmness in Goutham’s voice produced a sigh of relief from the techie. Because he was scared that he would have to take Goutham to the hospital and that would sabotage his next day’s office-schedule.

“Happy independence day Goutham” he said …….

“Happy independence day Katlin….” Goutham said to himself.

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