As India approaches its 25th year as a major player in the IT outsourcing industry, director Vidhu Singh joins forces with Ram Ganesh Kamatham to present Kamatham’s latest comedy, “Dancing on Glass.”

Kamatham’s play explores the less-than-ordinary lives behind the voices of Indian IT workers of outsourced call centers so familiar to us all. Set in Bangalore, the backbone of India’s burgeoning $40 billion IT outsourcing industry, the dark and often brutally honest play explores the relationship between two young professionals, Megha (Amisha Veda) and Shankar (Amit Sharma). Megha works at a call center and Shankar is a software engineer. Each suffer with their own symptoms of the physical and psychological costs of work-related stress in a globalized industry.

Having reported $17.7 billion in software and IT services exports in 2005, compared with $3.6 billion for China and $1 billion for Russia, India’s IT outsourcing industry continues to grow. The flipside of this prosperity, however, is the toll taken on 20-something employees lured straight from college by attractive paychecks and promising career prospects. Many soon discover that the reality of their working life entails long night shifts, ruthless targets, and abusive customers on the other end of the line. A rise in the number of reported work-related mental health issues such as depression and bi-polar disorder, and a high turnover of employees, seem to indicate that many are unable to cope with the stress. Others self-medicate, living reckless lives and relieving work pressure with a toxic outburst of nonstop partying and binge drinking.

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Described as “emotionally explosive,” the provocative play features a multiethnic cast and swift dialogue. The dialogue is performed in English and Kannada and is refreshingly candid, dissecting the devastating impact of an ever-expanding and globalized industry on human relationships.

Having heard of the changes Bangalore had undergone socially and culturally as a result of the IT industry, Singh was moved by Kamatham’s play. “I was touched by the fragility and brittleness of the characters of Megha and Shankar, by the metaphor of them dancing on glass, as something both celebratory and destructive.”

In considering the vulnerability of her characters’ lives Singh hopes that American audiences might relate to the workers’ plight at a fundamental level. “By witnessing these characters’ lives in a heightened, poetic way,” she says, “perhaps we can identify with them and sense the beauty and fragility of their lives, as well as our own.”

It remains to be seen what action, if any, large companies reaping the rewards of India’s low-cost IT industry will take to address rising workforce attrition and work-related health issues.

Oct. 8-9, 8 p.m., and Oct. 10, 7 p.m. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St. San Francisco. (415) 626-2060. julie@counterpulse.org.

Oct. 14, 7 p.m., and Oct. 15, 8 p.m. The Red Poppy Art House, 2698 Folsom St., San Francisco. (415) 826-2402. info@redpoppyarthouse.org.

 

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