The Web



Surfin' Hindustan

Text and photograph: A Ganesh Nadar

Information wave in tsunami land

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, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai, we travel to Kanyakumari


Kumar Internet is in Colachel, a big town in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu, the southernmost tip of mainland India. And in this part of the country, where the tsunami wreaked havoc last year, the Internet is the key to the world.

Arul, who works at the cybercafe, says most customers want to check the status of their passport applications.

One such customer walks in, even as we speak. Arul keys in a number and the status comes in a flash. A ten-rupee note changes hands for a minute of Net time.

Even if it's not passport applications, most others who walk in also look at the Internet as the corridor to the global village: They want to e-mail their children working in the Middle East.

And Arul's work is that of the postman in the Indian heartland in the days of yore.

He receives the children's replies, downloads them and gives printouts to the parents.

Shaila, one of the customers at the cybercafe on a sleepy morning, is a hospital administrator. For her, the Internet is a tool to check for new medicines for her doctors.

She also downloads the latest news on medicine for the hospital.

Robert James is a first year medical student. "My father is a physician but he is not Net savvy. So, he sits with me when he wants to search the Net. Mom is a gynaecologist, and she knows how to use the Internet."

But for James, the Web holds an attraction beyond the human anatomy. "I use it for downloading music," he says, smiling.

While broadband might be killing the café star elsewhere in India, Arul says business is growing.

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