Wednesday, March 01, 2000

From the Diary of a Netizen





My day began at my daddy’s tea stall at 6 am and the big guard gave me fifty paisa as a tip. I bought a chocolate toffee from the corner shop on the other side of the orange office building.


***

The children from the school near my house laughed at me because my shorts were torn. I hid behind the wall and aimed a stone at the boys, and ran into my house.

***


I am nine years old. I don’t go to school because I have to help my father and elder brother run the tea and cigarette stall. Today I was able to give change—to someone buying cigarettes—without asking my brother or father. You don’t have to go to school to be able to do arithmetic, I guess.

***


While playing cricket, our new ball went over the top of the wall, right into the manicured garden of the office complex. A tall auntie with a long sharp nose wearing a saree gave it back.


***

Today a strange man came and distributed packets full of a pink liquid. My old man drank one too many, fought with a friend, and got a black eye in the bargain. The man promised to bring something for my mother and me next time. My brother told me that he is a politician.

***

Today three people came and made a hole in the wall of the orange building. They have put a computer there. Guddi, Raju and I went to see what we can do with it. It’s a little TV screen with pictures on it. They showed us a little black square on the side. By moving our fingers on this square we can move an arrow on the screen. It feels like it is made of thick rubber.

***

My father got drunk and beat up my mother. They fought so loudly that I went away and ate at Bina and Guddu’s house.
***

Ramu, the big bully in our colony, will never bother us again. Today we made so much fun of him when he slipped and fell into the big pile of cow-dung lying in the middle of the ground. He tried to catch and beat us up but we ran away.

***

We moved our cricket playing so that the ball does not break the TV screen. Renu Aunty came to ask whether we like the computer. Raju said he liked to play games on it. Guddi did not say anything.

***

My mother hung clothes to dry and my shirt flew over the roof. She held up my two-year old sister so she could clamber up the asbestos roof to bring back my shirt. She nearly fell down but mommy caught her in time.

***

Today I somehow shut down the computer. An uncle from inside re-started it. We closed it again and asked the guard to re-start the computer. I showed everyone how it could be done. For some reason, Vivek Uncle was in a smiling mood that day.

***

There are many aunties and uncles in this office building. They all come in Maruti cars, and hang around the front of the building drinking coffee or tea. The guard told me they have a machine which can make tea.

***

Sanju Bhaiyya, who lives near my house and goes to work, made a picture in the computer. He knows a lot about the computer. But all I wanted to do was to play with Mickey Mouse. In the evening some older people came and asked us to show them how to play with the computer. But they left soon after, because they could not understand anything.

***

My mother’s sister came over from the village, with my mausa and Tejali. They will live with us until they find a room for themselves. My father and mausaji had to sleep outside in the cold.

***

Something went wrong with the computer last evening and Raju cut the touch pad and spoiled it. Somebody complained to his father who gave him a thrashing. I too cried that night.

***

Today another politician came in an auto-rickshaw and gave pouches of a red drink to my father and his friends. He gave us children small flags and we ran all the way behind the auto until it turned the corner. My father and his friends laughed and shouted boisterously all night.

***

Today, an uncle came and took our photograph. He asked Guddi whether she knew how to use the computer. I told him that she is a girl, and not too interested. He asked my name. The next day Raju, Guddi and I were on the front page of a newspaper. Vivek Uncle and Renu Aunty were very excited, but Guddi thought her hair was not looking too good.

**
Vivek uncle put a page in Hindi on the computer. It had stuff written in Hindi, but no pictures. I closed it and went back to playing the Tarzan game on Mickey’s site. We found some Hindi film songs on the internet and some movies.
***


Today was the market day of the week. A naked beggar snaked his way through the crowded bazaar. I saw the Aunty with the long nose drive her Esteem through the crowd, trying to avoid the crawling beggar on the road.

***

Some foreigners came to see us and talk to us. They were shown round by an uncle wearing a suit. I showed them how I wrote my name in English on the computer. They were quite surprised.

***


Ran into some uniformly dressed schoolchildren again. This time their jokes did not bother me much.


The characters and events mentioned above are a creation of the author’s imagination.

However, they have been inspired by conversations with colleagues conducting an experiment in Minimally Invasive Education, at a slum adjoining the NIIT Corporate office, in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Children who live in this slum were given access to an Internet Kiosk. This experiment received wide media exposure, following the front page headline: Rajender Ban Gaya Netizen (by Parul Chandra, The Times Of India, May 12, 1999).

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