A Chat with Robinder

In my single life, my computer means more than one can imagine – yes, trust me, more than what it normally means to most people. It is my connection to the world, to my family and friends in India, it is where I do my writing and journaling, drawing, photo editing, finances, and my art and design projects; it is simultaneously my best friend and evil addiction. And currently, being on an unpaid sabbatical from work, it has become even more inseparably, my partner in crime. So, when a week ago it decided to show me a grey luminous screen of non-cooperation on an hourly basis, I became exceedingly distraught. My life seemed to come to a standstill. How was I going to move forward? I recalled the tedious and protracted two-plus-hour phone calls I had to endure with DELL’s technical support the last couple of times I had trouble. Invariably, I’d be connected with a fellow-Indian from across the seas with a fake name and fake American accent, who would repeatedly ask me the same question that I had answered only minutes earlier, interjecting incessantly with “sorry, ma’m,” “thank you, ma’m,” “excuse me, ma’m?,” “definitely, ma’m,” “absolutely, ma’m,” “don’t worry, ma’m,”… My skin began to crawl. Why couldn’t someone just take my laptop away and make it work? Why else had I paid a premium for a 3-year extended warranty?

Anyway, after 24 hours of living in denial of the stubborn grey-luminous screen, I decided to log on to the online DELL CHAT Support System, instead of calling. At least I’d have my hands free to do other things, and would also be able to refer them back to previously answered questions. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a certain Amit (no changed Americanized name) who was quite precise in his language with me, even apologizing for typos in his writing! After running some diagnostics, he said that either he or another DELL support person would be calling me to follow-up the next day, at 2pm Pacific Time.

Enter Robin. Promptly at 2pm last Thursday, I received a call from a polite but sophisticated, non-ingratiating voice. “Ma’m, my name is Robin and I am calling from DELL.” There was no trace of an attempted American accent, just a clipped Indian-English accent representative of a solid education and polished communication skills. After leading me efficiently through more hardware diagnostics for an hour, Robin determined with unquestioning confidence that there was a software issue, and that it would be best to re-install the operating system. When I couldn’t locate the CDs that supposedly came with my laptop more than a year ago, he didn’t dwell on the subject. “I’ll just put them in the mail to you, ma’m, and they should be there by Monday. I can give you a call on Monday evening at a time of your choice and we can re-install everything.” There was not a moment of hesitation in Robin’s voice. After walking me through a process of backing up all my files on an external hard drive by starting the computer on safe mode, and agreeing on a time of 7pm, Robin signed off. I spent a weekend in uncertainty, not sure what to expect when Monday finally arrived.

On Monday afternoon, the CDs arrived by DHL courier, magically on time. And Robin called at 7:03pm. I couldn’t believe it. After walking me through an hour-and-a-half of operating system re-installation, he had me install only the internet connectivity driver, and then proceeded to have me log on to a DELL Server system, so that now he could work my computer remotely! Soon, I could see a mouse cursor moving by itself on the screen, while I had Robin’s voice on the phone. He said that this way, he could install all the remaining drivers, and also help me with re-loading all my software. I saw that there was an “Agent ID” tag next to the mouse cursor on my screen, and it was Robinder_XXXX (numbers). I could no longer contain my curiosity. “So, Robin, where in India are you, may I ask?” I enquired. “Oh, I’m in Punjab, ma’m,” he said with zero hesitation. “So you’ve kept your original name…?” “Oh, yes, at DELL we keep our original names!” he said, amusement lacing his voice. “So how long have you been in the US?” Robinder now asked me. “Eleven years,” I said. “Oh, wow. What do you do for a living?” “Architecture.” “I used to be a chemical engineer, but then felt that I wasn’t producing any concrete results. So I trained with DELL and took up this position in technical support,” Robinder explained in return.

Thus started a REAL chat with Robinder, while a phantom mouse moved around on my screen, quietly doing its work in the background. We talked about everything from politics and religion, to societal issues such as the gender divide, marriage pressures, professional expectations, economic barriers. “You know, today is a critical day in the Indian Parliament,” Robinder reminded me. “It is the day of a confidence vote for the Manmohan Singh government, triggered by the clashes around the proposed nuclear agreement between India and the U.S.” “The one political leader in this country who is not a thug is at risk today!” he lamented. When I probed, it turned out Robinder is supportive of the nuclear agreement because he feels it will help India generate alternative energy resources for the impending fuel crisis of 2020. I learned that Robinder tries to read extensively about world politics and environmental sustainability issues. I also learned that Robinder is 26, and is married to a girl he met at DELL who works in customer service, at a higher rank and higher salary than himself. “You know, she’s from U.P., so it adds some cultural flavor to our marriage,” he offered. “I’ve married someone I love, and want to have fun and work hard to save money right now.” But the old women in his village were bugging him about “when they would see his son,” he told me laughingly.

Moving on to software installations for which I had to insert CDs at my end and the phantom mouse did the rest, I was able to get deeper into Robinder’s motivations for working in computer technical support. “You know, it is so great to help people from all over the world!” he said with heartfelt passion. “And I love understanding why computers behave the way they do, and how to get them to behave the way I want them to. When, after a couple of hours, I get a problem fixed and hear a happy customer on the other end, I just feel so happy.” Robinder shared a number of memories of customer interactions with me. One was with a 97-year old man in the U.S. When his screen had said “Please Wait,” showing him an hourglass, this old man had said to Robinder, “You know, the computer is like your wife. It says “Please Wait,” and you have no choice but to just obey.” Robinder laughed hard at this and told me that he had never forgotten this man and his words. “In fact, I learn a lot about life from my work with computers,” Robinder said rather philosophically. “Like what? I asked.” “Well, you know, in almost a 100% of the cases, a big problem in a computer is caused by a very small and simple root cause. This is why they always teach us to test the very small, simple things first. In a similar way, big problems in life are caused by very small, simple missteps. A little word of acknowledgment, a little gesture of appreciation, a little pat on the shoulder, can go a long way in preventing big problems in life.” I was speechless.

Nearly 4 hours later, and more than 3 hours past Robinder’s shift time had ended, we were finally done. My computer was running fine again. I was going to bed, and Robinder was going to an engagement ceremony (forgoing his sleep), after picking up his wife who was already home. He said he was so lucky that their shift timings were only an hour apart, and that she usually spent time in the gym for the last hour he worked. I thanked Robinder for extending himself for so long to help me, and he said, “If it hadn’t taken this long, how could we have shared so many thoughts, stories and experiences? I truly believe that everything happens for a reason.”

Hanging up our call, I felt an inexplicable sadness, as if I was saying goodbye to a dear, long-time friend. I also felt a deep joy and pride at an emergent, sophisticated Young India.



Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. Khushi

    You know, I am usually so rude when anyone calls, eager to keep down the phone. I never thought of their lives, and this second dimension you have added to it. I am glad you probed further into his life and shared it with us. It kind of brings alive those unknown voices on the other side of the phone.

  2. Anonymous

    I think you have just added humanity to call center operators from offshore. We so often revile them

  3. Asha A

    Beautiful post. I can identify with what you said about the computer. Please keep posting.

  4. Pry

    I like the saying “computer is like your wife”!!!Thats true!!

  5. priyanka080305

    its so good to meet ppl in lifes way…to spk to thm..to knw them..u learn frm thm ..& simultaneosly learn so much about urself..these are small small joys of life Tana..& knw the art of enjoying these tiny winy JOYS..love u again..:)

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