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Tanya Datta
Tanya Datta

Crawling down perilous Ukrainian coal mines or interviewing armed Indian rebels were all in a day’s work for Tanya Datta, a former BBC reporter. Since 2008, however, she has returned to her first love – writing fiction. Tanya lives in London and is working on a collection of dark, often surreal short stories set amongst the Indian diaspora.

The Upgrade

How happy are you with your life at present, Miss Sharma?” Up to that point, it had been just another pushy sales call. One of the many she got each autumn pestering her to upgrade her mobile phone; the kind, if truth be told, she secretly enjoyed, relishing the chance to strike a great deal. This sounded no different; perhaps the salesman was a touch less slick than usual and the line a little more crackly, but nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary.

Until he asked her if she was happy.

At that moment, Radha knew with absolute certainty that the man on the phone was not what he claimed to be. She couldn’t explain how she was so sure, she just was. She stiffened and glanced around the newsroom. Why would anyone want to ask her something like that? Radha put down the document she had been reading and narrowed her eyes. He was Indian, this salesman who wanted to discuss her happiness; that much she had grasped straightaway. But that was hardly unusual. Plenty of Indians worked in call centres both in the UK and over in India. She swivelled her chair round and pressed her mobile against her ear.

I’m sorry,” she replied. “Could you repeat your question, please?”

How happy are you with your life at present?”

On second thoughts, he had a harsh, almost rasping voice. Curious for someone supposed to make phone calls for a living. And the line wasn’t just bad, it was appalling and fi lled with static. How could she have missed it?

I’m not sure I –” she began hesitantly.

Something tells me, Miss Sharma,” he cut in sharply, “you are not nearly as happy as you could be. I mean, truly happy in the sense that everything is as you would like it to be. Here, at our company, we think that you deserve better. Much better . . .”

As he spoke, a picture slowly materialised in Radha’s mind of a crowded, stuffy room. In it, she could make out the salesman, young with a lined face, perched on the edge of a desk, talking into a headset. There were three to four rows of elderly Indian men and women behind him, seated at tables, and listening intently on what appeared to be 1920s telephones. They had an oddly familiar aura about them.


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