On the phone, Ahmed Shareef’s accented English in a booming voice could be mistaken as belonging to a burly American. “For the last three years, I have been speaking to Americans every day… can I help it?” asks Ahmed, with a half-apologetic smile.
But the 25-year-old computer engineering student also slips subconsciously into the Hyderabadi Hindi, and his sentences are as likely to end with ‘man’ as ‘bhai’.
For eight hours every weeknight, on a sprawling workfloor of 24/7, the BPO where he works, Ahmed fields calls from television watchers on the other side of the globe — any of Dishnet USA’s 14 million customers.
The satellite television provider has outsourced its operations to this BPO in Gachibowli, a developing hub of offices and institutes on Hyderabad’s northwestern edge, that houses names like Google and the Indian School of Business.
Ahmed — Alex to his American callers — says, “We were earlier in HITEC City, but moved here as operations grew.” Part of a team of over 700, he explains, “We manage Dishnet’s technical support, so viewers call us when they have problems with the service.”
Ahmed leaves his home in Old City’s Misri Ganj at 11 every night, and is in office by midnight. For the next eight hours, with a break for breakfast, he is on the phone.
An office taxi takes him back home next morning, where he chats with his mother briefly before leaving for his computer engineering institute. When he returns in the evening, he hits the bed. “Paanch-che ghante neend chahiye na, bhai (I need five to six hours of sleep, don’t I)... I wake up only when the office cabbie calls me as he approaches my house.”
Ahmed knows this time next year, he will not be in this industry: “I’m working so that I can study.” The only son of a shop assistant, he uses most of his Rs 18,000 salary to fund his computer degree, with software courses on the side. He says ambitiously, “I want to join an IT firm when I have my degree.”
For now, though, Ahmed is happy with a life cutting across multiple time zones, and feels grateful for the chance to work, earn money, and climb up the ladder of opportunity: “Five years ago, I could only give tuitions to earn some money. Today, if I struggle for a month, I know I will find a job.”
At his childhood friend’s cable network shop where we speak, television screens are tuned into Mumbai-based tele-evangelist Zakir Naik's Peace TV. “I like Dr Naik’s clarity,” says Ahmed. “When he spoke at NTR Gardens last year, I was there.”
Religion provides Ahmed an anchor. The devout Muslim who must pray every day, says, “I feel at peace when I emerge from my neighbourhood mosque.”
Most times, Ahmed's disparate worlds of home and work do not intersect. In times of tension, as after the twin blasts last August, the contrast can come into sharp focus.
Ahmed recalls, “When that happened, it was work as usual in HITEC City, and the world seemed normal. It was only when I came back into the Old City that I saw the curfew there.”