Printing Poetry

01/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Back from Best Buy one recent evening with my new all-in-one inkjet, I finally began connecting it to the computer just before midnight. When I next glanced at a clock, it was way later and I'd utterly failed. Time for another disjointed tech call.

The young woman answered with an Indian lilt and asked how I was. Flatly I replied, "ok. How are you?" She asked "are you sad because your printer isn't working?" I had to muster all my diplomatic skill to say politely, "No, I'm not sad; I just want to be able to print stuff."

Whenever I encounter foreign workers, I struggle to disguise my anger. It's not their fault that U.S. corporations outsource as many jobs as they can, throwing millions of Americans out of work and hurting many millions more with the ripple effects of their actions. But tech support calls tax my equanimity, particularly in the wee hours-- having to explain problems I often don't understand to people who often don't understand me.

I do not want to compound the hatred so many countries feel toward ours, and for the past year I've worked to be mindful. The goal is to represent America in a positive way, to help reduce overseas antagonism and by extension, to help prevent terrorist attacks here and against our people abroad-- like Mumbai-- which specifically targeted Americans and Britons.

Presumptuous? Maybe. But experience shows we don't think in a vacuum, and I'm sure there are others coast-to-coast doing their infinitesimal ambassadorial bests. Besides, even if this doesn't help-- as my dad used to say, it can't hoit.

Back to the lyrically-voiced techie, my silent printer and me. She spoke with unwavering sweetness and sincerity, and I could feel guilt creeping into my soul because of my initial grumpiness.

She took control of the computer and the cursor began to fly. Soon she charmed printer and computer into communicating.

I praised her work and asked how she got so good. "I'm a computer genius," she giggled. Who can also joke in English, I said to myself.

The overall process took a long time, what with testing at every stage and bureaucratic delays. When the job was complete and I was still pleasant, she thanked me for being patient (believe me, I was multitasking throughout). "Are some people not so patient?" I asked. "Oh, some people..." she started and stopped pretty nearly simultaneously.

She asked where I was, and what time it was here. I told her it was three-ish a.m. in California and she said it was mid-afternoon in Delhi. "Wow, it's that late already? Did I miss anything?" I asked, at which she laughed.

I had one more question for my new friend: "What do you think about Obama?" "Oh," she practically sang, "we are so happy." "How did people react when he won?" "Dancing in the streets!" she replied.

Just before we hung up, I asked her to spell her name. She sent (and remotely printed!) a lovely little note with her name, Kavita, and its English translation. Kavita means poem.