Ron Godfrey, business editor, visits one of the call centres in India which has taken jobs from York.

COME with me, all you Norwich Union Life employees in York, whose jobs are threatened by outsourcing to India.

Duck into the dark doorway of a corrugated iron-roofed porch attached to a treesurrounded house on a Government estate in Pune and meet a sweet couple.

Zaheed Shaikh, at 28 is thickset and clean cut. Payal Gupta, 24, is gamine and gently demure. It takes some minutes of politely chatting in the cicada-seething heat under a whirling ceiling fan in their home for them shyly to reveal that - shock of shocks - they are married.

A few years ago the revelation of that union might have been astonishing, even dangerous, given that he is a Muslim and she is a Hindu. The enmity between the two religions is, after all, what sparked the mass bloodshed which sheared the subcontinent into the two rival nations of India and Pakistan.

The difference now is that the two of them are among the 2,600 people employed in Pune by Aviva - the parent company of York-based Norwich Union Life.

They work where they first met - in a sky-reflecting seven-storey office block at Magarpatta City business park where a phalanx of curving glass-facaded signs of "globalisation" contrast beyond its gates with the cacophonous horn-blowing, bellringing, ox-lowing bedlam of tangled traffic on its outskirts.

There, among the ragged and the wretched of teeming millions, the old heatshimmering India ends. Here, in the whispering air-conditioned modernity of corporate paradise, the new India begins - and old prejudices vanish.

"Globalisation is our friend, not our enemy, " says Zaheed who works in the process excellence department for EXL, one of the Indian partner companies which set up and run Norwich Union's Pune operation, and Payal shyly nods her approval.

She first came to Pune to visit friends who worked at the call centre. She had graduated in hotel management in Bangalore and realised that having a degree would help her to get a job there too. Now she is grandly titled "customer care executive" working in the indexing team of the Norwich Union Life business.

For the past two years she has been part of a 70-strong group which routes the queues of questions and scanned images of documents all the way from the UK to the correct operatives. "It is really a nice, good experience, " she says.

She has another title too - Mrs GuptaShaikh. The dual surname is a growing trend among married new-age Indian women, especially those in the corporate sector. It is a proud badge of self-assertiveness, confidence and financial independence And why not? Here are a couple who are the elite. Both of them earn wages which may seem low at around £2,000 per year but are the equivalent in spending power of a doctor's earnings. They also have the benefit of being chauffeured every day to work and enjoying facilities which leave visitors from even the modern York office of Norwich Union Life gasping with envy.

Beyond the fully-subsidised canteen, the gymnasium bleeping with every kind of modern equipment possible (plus help of a personal trainer), the games room with numerous table tennis tables, the chill-out space, the internet room and even a video lounge with leather furniture that claims you when you sit down, there are the real prospects of moving up the ladder.

But the competition is fierce. One advertisement for vacancies yields as many as 14,000 applications and those who are chosen go through a rigorous training process of eight to ten weeks. Here, it is not a case of graduates getting priority. They are all graduates.

As such they have a high work ethic, are quick-minded and adaptable. Their lessons in the nuances of UK life pay off. Their understanding of Stonehenge and Guy Fawkes, their knowledge that a quid is a pound, their careful and slow enunciation of lines from the training movies they watch (such as Notting Hill for London accents and Braveheart for Scottish burr) pay off.

Their working hours reflect British and Canadian time, their banter is British and Canadian. They are practised at rounding out and slowing down the fast bounce of Indian syllables.

At the UK end you may hear about objections to foreigners handling local problems, but at the Pune office, it is claimed to be a diminishing complaint.

That claim seems to be borne out by an independent survey which showed that while just 69 per cent of people were happy with motor claims through Norwich Union's UK call centres, the firm's Indian motor insurance staff scored 72 per cent.

One explanation is that the Indian staff are well-off and intelligent enough to brightly and chirpily wander off-script should that prove necessary. And they are happy in their tasks.

Still, it might take a lot to keep Zaheed working there over the next few years. He already has a commerce degree from Pune University and is now in the second year of a three year postgraduate course in law.

His fascination for the law is clearly inherited. Where we talk is the porch of his mother's house assigned to her by the government - one of the perks of being a judge.

Other employees in Pune are not so lucky. With the arrival of the multinationals in a city once mostly agricultural, but also peppered with military academies, there was now burgeoning demand for property. In 18 months both property prices and rents had doubled.

Yet there is no escaping the truth. They are all the privileged ones, on the verge of living the dream that from the main chaotic highways of Mumbai shout at you in aspirational images. Thousands of hoardings loom skywards creating monstrous avenues as tall as California redwoods.

From a great height they bombard you with their Bollywood lure: Average Is The Enemy - Make it Large, yells a whisky missive. Aaaah, A Car Bazaar, sighs another.

Make Luxury Your Life-Long Address, coos a property company and in the shade of the iron legs of its lofty hoarding sits a twisted-limbed street urchin squatting on splintery board made mobile with four worn coasters. Behind his hunched shape is the jagged geometry of a small village of oily tarpaulins held up with bamboo.

So exactly how much contribution are we in York making to improving the welfare of what was a Third World country? How justified is the loss of 450 Norwich Union jobs in York - among 2,500 across the UK - 750 of which are going to India?

Well, if we are to believe the top messengers of Aviva, the UK is getting more out of this financially than it is putting in.

Virmani Rajinish, a media relations manager bases this claim on the findings of the MacKenzie Report three years ago which looked at the affect of outsourcing on the US economy.

At a lavish party at his house in the salubrious suburbs of Pune he says: "It found that for every dollar that leaves the US for India, $1.14 cents comes back to their country.

"Applied to Britain it means the same ratio - for every pound going to India, £1.14p comes back to the UK economy - in profits and savings made by Norwich Union, in money going into British companies like British Airways, in payment to British companies for maintaining the all-important bandwidth for communications."

But isn't this a disingenuous way of justifying the loss of British jobs? Has the other side of the equation been taken into account - the loss to the supply chains from the ending of York people's incomes?

Mr Rajinish remains unshaken. "Yes, it has been taken into account. In the US, two million jobs were lost in manufacturing and yet the production in manufacturing improved and at the same time 34 million jobs were catered for elsewhere.

"It may be no consolation to people who lose their jobs in York, but the message is that as long as there is mobility and flexibility in the UK labour force, with retraining and crossover of skills, they will be in a much better position to take advantage of the expanding pie."

On call in five-year operation

NORWICH Union started its operations in India five years ago. At first, focus was on voice-based processing for Norwich Union Insurance and Norwich Union Direct retail, then customer services claim handling went live in 2003.

That was the year that parent company, Aviva, started its project to build a self-sustaining low-cost operation in Asia, providing operational support to businesses in the group.

Three successful operations were set up across India, employing a total of 1,200 people, and providing support to Aviva businesses in the UK and Canada.

Today, with the help of three Indian suppliers - US-based 24/7 and EXL as well as WNS (started by British Airways) - there are five bases throughout India employing about 6,000 people between them. The biggest of these is at Pune where 2,600 employees work on six floors.