5:20 AM, New Delhi, India. It’s still dark. I’m just leaving the office where I have been working all night. These are typical working hours for call centers that service customers in the United States. Everyone works nights in India so that they are available to help customers during business hours in the US.
Sachin, one of the Support Engineers is driving me back to the hotel. As we stop at an intersection, the headlights shine on a man sleeping on a bench. His clothes are dirty and he doesn’t have any shoes. He is using a rock like it was a pillow. Homeless and destitute; it’s not an uncommon sight here.
“That poor man,” I say, imagining what his existence must be like.
Sachin glanced at the man and pulled out into the intersection, avoiding a cow that is standing obstinately in the middle of the road. “That man is sleeping better than me,” is all he said.
It’s a common complaint from the people I work with. Working nights and trying to sleep through the daylight hours is not easy to adapt to. It is devastating to personal lives when family and friends are sleeping and working opposite hours to you. Weekends are the only opportunity to have a social life outside of the office, and even then it’s hard. Everything here is harder than it should be.
Still, Sachin has a home. He has a roof over his head and a bed to sleep in. He works in a modern office with challenging work to do and a promising future ahead of him. The homeless man had none of these things. But the homeless man could sleep at night. I wondered if the homeless man would be willing to give up his night’s rest on a bench if he could have the things Sachin had. He may not.
As we pull up to my hotel, the armed guards stop the car at the entrance. They check the trunk and look under the car with mirrors and flashlights. A trained German Sheppard is lead around the car, sniffing for explosives. All of this is a constant reminder of just how far away from home I really am.
Every moment I am here, I am reminded of this. From the smell of the water as I take a shower, to the menu at the hotel with three things on it that I recognize as food I am willing to eat. From the traffic that obeys no rules of the road other than ‘try not to hit anything’, to the many children, mothers with babies and others who beg money from me on sight. I am far, far away from home.
Sachin comes up to my room and we have a few drinks before he heads home. The sun is full in the sky now, and I draw the curtains and get into bed. I take sleeping pills and watch one of the English channels on TV for a while. Reruns of Friends and Simpsons, interspersed with commercials for Masala flavored potato chips and cars that I have never heard of in the United States. I sleep and dream of India. I dream of a better life for the working and the nonworking classes. I dream that one day, it will be like home.
It is only a dream. I wake two hours later and can’t get back to sleep. I think of the man, sleeping on the bench. “He is sleeping better than me,” I think as I head to the shower. It’s going to be a long night.