The Web



Surfin' Hindustan

Text: Tathagata Gupta | Photograph: Bimal Das

Looking for lust, love, lucky breaks

Sixty per cent of India's Internet users access the Net through cybercafés. India has more cybercafés than post offices and an estimated 200,000 cybercafés play a vital role in everyday life across the country. On the occasion of 15 years of the Internet, takes a peek at what goes on in cybercafés around the country. After checking out Mumbai and Pune, today we travel to eastern India, to the City of Joy


She was a regular. Buxom and on the wrong side of 30, she would browse for hours everyday. Perhaps a housewife, she was one of the many dignified-looking, thirty-plus women visiting the cybercafe in south Kolkata's posh Lake Gardens locality.

One day, she brought a CD and asked cafe owner Dipangshu Chakraborty to transfer the contents to the hard disc of the computer she occupied. Please don't view the files, she requested.

Though the request stoked Dipangshu's curiosity, he did adhere to professional propriety and did not view the contents. After sometime, the lady left, taking the CD with her.

Not too tech savvy or perhaps a little unwary, the lady forgot to delete the contents from the hard disc. As Dipangshu opened the files stored in the computer, he was stunned. It was a portfolio of her nude photographs. There was even an application to a paid pornographic site.

"I could never imagine she could actually send her photos for an adult site from here for money," says 28-year-old Dipangshu with an impish grin.

"I can write a three-volume book on my experiences," says Dipangshu.

It is not just sex and lies that are traded on the anonymity of the cyber world from his cafe. Marriages are made too, before they are solemnised by parents. Dipangshu has been witness to many a Mills and Boon Internet romance flowering into lifelong vows.

"I'll tell you of an incident after I opened the cafe in October 2003. A young girl, the daughter of a famous city doctor, would come every day at 9 pm sharp and surf for hours. From a Yahoo! chatroom, she fell in love with an Indian guy on an assignment in the United States.

"In January 2004 they got married and it was only on the day of the wedding that the two saw each other for the first time in person. It was all about knowing each other through chatting and webcam," says Dipangshu.

Such filmi romances apart, porn remains an attraction.

"I cannot deny it is one of the reasons why young and old visit the cafe. I have a 65-year-old male client who is a member of umpteen pornographic pay sites. I have salesmen taking roller coaster ride in the world of sexual fantasies in between calling doctors during daytime. I have a growing married, thirty-plus women clientele who also love to have a good time in the Internet's world of horny hunks.

"The women sleaze surfers are now growing in number. And most of them are married," says Dipangshu.

"I have put up a note in the cafe requesting not to view adult sites. But it is just on paper. Even our cyber laws prohibit viewing pornography, but don't block the sites. So such regulations are meaningless," he adds.

With schoolchildren now forming a chunk of the surfers in his cafe, parents often ask Dipangshu to let them know if their children are watching porn.

"But, it is wrong to say that people come for only sex. Sleaze is only one of the many reasons to go online. There are so many young men and women who surf only for job applications," Dipangshu points out.

"Elderly couples with children staying abroad are also quite large in number now. And what is very heartening is that these old men and women, who are new to the Internet, are willing to pick up this mode of communication. They are slow, but steady. And they are avid learners."

Another new group of users are parents of prospective grooms and bridegrooms, or the youngsters themselves, who use the café to upload their profiles on matrimonial sites.

And, the Internet creates offline bonds too. "We [his surfers and him] are now like family. I am even invited in their family functions like wedding ceremonies, birthdays and other occasions. It is a nice, warm feeling," says Dipangshu.

"I have been working from this cafe for the past two years," says Lina Gupta, a middle-aged businesswoman who has made the cafe her office. "This offers me a nice work atmosphere. I can chat, surf and do all the paperwork here. This is quite cosy and I also get to meet so many people," Gupta, who is in the steel export business, adds.

"We also have a lot of young men and women from the Northeast region who are staying in this city, especially in Lake Gardens," informs Dipangshu.

"About 15 per cent of my clients are from the Northeast. They just love to chat. There is a group of seven guys who spend Fridays and Saturdays just chatting and doing nothing else!"

Running a cyber cafe has its own occupational hazards too.

"There have been occasions when I had to call the police. Once, two footballers from African countries started fighting over a girl inside the cafe. You can imagine how the scene was, with two huge black men fighting in such a small place! I had to rush outside to fetch the cops," says a smiling Dipangshu.

"Another time I had to call police when a young guy fudged the renewal account and just refused to acknowledge it. Though it was a matter of only Rs 250, we couldn't let it go just like that. Later, browbeaten by cops, he admitted it. His father came and took him away after paying the money."

But these episodes give Dipangshu much-needed comic relief, besides the good money he makes from the cafe.

"There are about 70 to 100 footfalls in a day. On an average, a visitor surfs for 40 minutes to an hour," says Dipangshu.

And business is picking up by the day, he adds.

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