One bad apple can ruin it for the whole bunch. It is, unfortunately, in the nature of individuals to generalise. The Indian call centre thing might be doing wonders for the Indian economy and employment figures, but a reverse effect, ever so gradually, is beginning to be felt here in Australia.

I received a call recently from an obviously young gentleman at the other end of the line, who bade me a very good day, mate! No, g'die mite! He followed up that with "How you goin'? No, "How are you goin'? The 'are', in this instance, rolling off the tongue roughly so that it sounded like a mini growl: 'Rrrrrr'. The average Aussie, I thought, doesn't rough up his 'R's' thus. Another thing was the accent itself, devoid of any inflection whatsoever.

"Where are you calling from," I asked, and the voice at the other end said, "Tasmania, mite, b****y cold up here."

Now why would a true-blue Aussie living in Tasmania, south of Sydney, ring up Sydney and say it's cold 'up' here when Tasmania is really 'down' there? It turned out he was trying to get me to switch telephone companies. I told him I'd have to discuss this with my Home Minister, who was currently away in parliament. He took my words literally.

"What are the chances of migrating to Australia, mite?", he asked. "You are in Australia," I reminded him. "Of course I am, mite," he chuckled, "I was thinking about my cousin."

Anyway, he arranged to call the next day at an hour when the Home Minister would be available. Unfortunately for him, his call caught the Home Minister immediately post-siesta when she was willing to brook no nonsense. "What's your name?" she demanded and it turned out he was Raj.

"Where are you calling from?" asked the Home Minister, and Raj apparently replied, Bangalore. As it turned out, the Home Minister having lived in Bangalore herself at one time, they ended up discussing the city. No deal to switch telecom companies was struck, however. The Home Minister is very fussy.


But not two weeks later, a current affairs programme highlighted an offshoot of our own experience. Same kind of caller, same kind of request. The elderly Australian lady who took the call told him very clearly and simply she wasn't interested. The caller, not realising his response was being recorded on her machine, began to abuse her.

And now, the programme has been aired and watched by hundreds of thousands. It's still an isolated incident, but you could already sense that the early resentment towards jobs being outsourced in the first place, is about to snowball.

And the spotlight, suddenly, for all the wrong reasons, appears to be trained on India. The masseuse who misbehaved at the Commonwealth Games and had to be sent home has not helped India's cause either. Nor have some weightlifters.

All, as I said, isolated cases. But as I also said, it's human nature to generalise, to feel that 'these Indians' represent the other multitudes.

And for someone like me with half a century's worth of Indianness in his bones, that really, truly hurts. What the call centre managers need to do quickly is ensure this whole enterprise doesn't somehow turn around and bite the nation in the foot.

Kevin Martin is a Sydney-based journalist.