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Pipe Dreams
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by Sita Bhaskar     

The voice on the phone had an American accent. But these days every voice on the phone had an American accent. Voices on the streets, too. And in the offices. And shops. And airports. It was as if one no longer knew where India ended and America began. Or was it the other way around? The call center culture was playing havoc with singsong Calcutta, brash Delhi, hurried Bombay, rough Madras, and clipped Bangalore accents. Young working adults in India now spoke with accents that could have come from New York, Chicago, Texas, or California depending on where their speech and accent trainers came from. But who was he to complain? Murthy was pursuing the same pipe dream, looking for the same pot of gold at the end of the outsourcing rainbow. 

“Mr. Richardson’s meetings in Delhi took longer than he expected, Mr. Murthy,” the cool female voice continued. “And Bangalore is not on his itinerary.”

What foreign business traveler did not have Bangalore on his itinerary these days? Did they expect him to go to Delhi?

“Your business proposal arrived after he left Chicago, but it caught my attention and I couriered it to him in Delhi at the…” There was a break. “… ah, Hotel Maurya Sheraton, I believe.”

Murthy swallowed his disappointment. Even if his business proposal had reached Mr. Richardson before he left Chicago, even if Murthy had taken the train to Delhi to save money, Hotel Maurya Sheraton was out of his league.

“But he’s in Chennai for a day. At Hotel Park Sheraton and can meet you for dinner. Would that work with your schedule?”

Chennai - or Madras, as he knew it. For years the city had kept the name that the British gave it. Did politicians care that changing it took an emotional toll on people like Murthy? Madras was home to him, not Chennai. And did the accented voice on the phone realize that Madras — he would call it Madras as long as he could get away with it — was 200 kilometers from Bangalore where he lived? “Yes, it will, Ms…”

“Neeta. It’s Parineeta. My folks are originally from Calcutta, but I’ve lived forever in Chicago. But call me Neeta, it’s not such a tongue twister.”

Subramanya Murthy smiled. The smile deepened his dimples. It was part of the package along with his twinkling black eyes that drew people to him in an instant. He willed his charming smile to travel across the seas and dazzle her. “Neeta, please tell Mr. Richardson I’ll meet him at Hotel Park Sheraton at 7:30 tomorrow evening.”

“Sure will. Would it be too much to ask you to handle the dinner reservations, Mr. Murthy?”

“Not at all. What is Mr. Richardson’s preference?”

“There was a restaurant he mentioned from his last visit. Let me think now — Thai cuisine, it was. Close to Hotel Park Sheraton — Ben-something,” she said.

“I know the place. Benjarong. Seven-thirty tomorrow.”

“That’ll be great. And — I hope I’m not out of line here — is there a Mrs. Murthy? Please do take her with you. Mr. Richardson would be delighted to meet her.”