Ansari returned to Srinagar five years ago, determined to carve out a niche for himself using the skills he had acquired working in the IT sector in Pune, Bangalore and Chennai. At first things were tough—more than fifteen years of violence had resulted in the near-disappearance of the corporate sector. Ansari's father, who owns a car dealership, had gone from selling 300 cars a month to about three in six months. "A bloated government structure was the only way to secure a decent job for most people," says Ansari. But conversely, the violence had also led to the creation of a highly educated young population, as parents felt schooling was the best way to keep children out of the conflict. The training and skills were there; all that was needed was a break. And then Ansari's cousin secured a deal to set up the Airtel call centre in Srinagar.
"Those were exciting days," recalls Kumail. "We had just one month to feed in all the database information and find qualified people to run the show." Tapping into the large pool of Kashmiri IT professionals, he found Shahid Mir working as a technical support officer with Microsoft in Gurgaon. "I jumped at the chance to come back and work here," Shahid says. At 29, he is already the operations manager, proud of the team he has helped build. Among this band of brothers is the highly qualified 29-year-old, Rakesh Bhat, a Pandit whose family left Kashmir in 1986. Rakesh was working with Sutherland in Chennai when he was recruited for the post of senior operations manager this winter. "All those years since we left, I never had the chance to come back to Kashmir—it's a very special feeling, to come back home with a purpose," says Rakesh. He is even more elated at his team's success. "Our call times are less than two minutes, when others aim at three. Right now we employ more than 200 people, and where normal BPOs try to keep attrition rates at less than 12 per cent, we lose less than three per cent." With resumes piling up, they are thinking of expanding operations to Jammu, once the agitation abates there.