Why India Works – written by film director Shekhar Kapoor.
A greater ‘hole in the wall’ you cannot imagine. A small fading sign on the top saying “Cellphoon reapars” barely visible through the street vendors crowding the Juhu Market in Mumbai. On my way to buy a new Blackberry, my innate sense of adventure made me stop my car and investigate. A shop not more than 6 feet by 6 feet. Grimy and uncleaned.
‘Can you fix a Blackberry ?”
‘Of course, show me”
”How old are you” ‘Sixteen’
Bullshit. He was no more than 10. Not handing my precious blackberry to a 10 year old in unwashed and torn T shirt and pyjamas! At least if I buy a new one, they would extract the data for me. Something I have been meaning to do for a year now.
‘What’s wrong with it?”
‘Well, the roller track ball does not respond. It’s kind of stuck and I cannot operate it”
He grabs it from my hand and looks at it
“You should wash your hands. Many customers have same problem. Roller ball get greasy and dirty, then no working’
Look who was telling me to wash my hands. He probably has not bathed for 10 days, I leaned out to snatch my useless blackberry back..
” You come back in one hour and I fix it’.
I am not leaving all my precious data in this unwashed kid’s hands for an hour. No way.
“Who will fix it?”
‘How big is ‘big brother?’
‘big …. Umm ..thirty’
Then suddenly big brother walks in. 30 ??? He is no more than 19.
‘What problem?’ He says grabbing the phone from my greasy hand into his greasier hand. Obviously not trained in etiquette by an upmarket retail store manager.
‘Normal blackberry problem. I replace with original part now. You must wash your hand before you use this’. What is this about me washing my hands suddenly??
19 year old big brother rummages through a dubious drawer full of junk and fishes out a spare roller ball packed in cheap cellophane wrapper. Original part? I doubt it. But by now I am in the lap of the real India and there is no escape as he fishes out a couple of screwdrivers and sets about opening my Blackberry.
“How long will this take?”
This I have to see. After spending the whole morning trying to find a Blackberry service centre and getting vague answers about sending the phone in for an assessment that might take a week, I settle down next to his grubby cramped work space. At least I am going to be able to watch all my stored data vanish into virtual space. People crowd around to see what’s happening. I am not breathing easy anyway. I tell myself this is an adventure and literally have to stop myself grabbing my precious Blackberry back and making a quick escape. But in exactly six minutes this kid handed my Blackberry back. He had changed the part and cleaned and serviced the whole phone. Taken it apart, and put it together. As I turned the phone on there was a horrific 2 minutes where the phone would not come on. I looked at him with such hostility that he stepped back.
‘you have more than thousand phone numbers ?”
‘Must back up. I do it for you. Never open phone before backing up’
‘You tell me that now?’
But then the phone came on and my data was still there. Everyone watching laughed and clapped. This was becoming a show. A six minute show. I asked him how much.
‘500 rupees’ He ventured uncertainly. People around watched in glee expecting a negotiation.
That’s $10 dollars as against the Rs 30,000 ($ 600) I was about to spend on a new Blackberry or a couple of weeks without my phone. I looked suitably shocked at his ‘high price’ but calmly paid him. Much to the disappointment of the expectant crowd
‘do you have an I-Phone ? Even the new ‘4D one ?
‘I break the code for you and load any ‘app’ or film you want. I give you 10 film on your memory stick on this one, and change every week for small fee’
I went home having discovered the true entrepreneurship that lies at what we call the ‘bottom of the pyramid’. Some may call it piracy, which of course it is, but what can you say about two uneducated and untrained brothers aged 10 and 19 that set up a ‘hole in the wall’ shop and can fix any technology that the greatest technologists in the world can throw at them. I smiled at the future of our country. If only we could learn to harness this potential.
‘Please wash your hands before use’ were his last words to me. Now I am feeling seriously unclean.
Vikram Seth, speech at the Kolkata Book Fair on Kolkata, Kobi, Constitution and Kolom:
I will now go to the fourth ‘ko’ or Kolom. I have touched upon the word in law and literature. But especially when one thinks of Tagore, one also thinks of the word as a graphic form, a form of art. I am very happy that Sunil Gangopadhyay and I—as part of this inauguration—were asked to write the word ‘kolom’ in black paint on those white boards there. As you can see, Sunil Da has written it in Bengali and I have written it in English and Urdu. It is interesting that three of the world’s great civilisations, the Hindu, the Islamic and the Judaeo-Christian, are thus incorporated on those boards, just as they are part of our common discourse. This is the richness of our country; we cannot allow it to be filtered and thinned. This is the strength of our country; we cannot allow it to be contorted or distorted.
Let me end with the two opening lines of a poem by Tagore that I have known—in his own English translation—since I was eleven years old. It was one of our school prayers and it expresses his aspirations for India.
‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free.’
Let me repeat that: ‘Where knowledge is free.’
Those who try to cloud our minds with fear are the enemies of both knowledge and freedom.
We cannot let our republic, our beloved republic, our constitutional republic, our free and free-speaking republic, be hijacked by fear. It happened once in the Emergency. It must never happen again.
We cannot let them close our mouths and eyes and ears.
We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink.
Kolome kali jeno na shokaye.
May the kolom flourish.