A Blackberry addict discovers grassroots enterprise in India

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 (foolishness) 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”


Bullshit. He was no more than 10. Not handing my precious blackberry to a 10 year old in unwashed and torn T shirt and pyjama’s ! 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 ?”

‘Big brother’

‘ 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 ?”

” Six minutes ”

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 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 ?”


‘backed up ?’


‘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. Thats $ 10 dollars as against the Rs 30,000 ($ 600) I was a 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 disapointment of the expectant crowd.

‘do you have an Iphone ? Even the new ‘4′ one ?

‘no, why”

‘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 entreprenuership 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 a 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.

211 thoughts on “A Blackberry addict discovers grassroots enterprise in India

  1. Hey Sekhar,
    Why don’t you try Blackberry Touch or the latest one that doesn’t have the track ball – its simply a touch, it doesn’t get spoiled too.


  2. well….now you know where all the water is going to time and again while you make films on it……..

    washing hands so blackberries can shine and work better! 🙂

  3. Amazing incident!! If only we could work at the absolute bottom.. right from the start… from schooling level will be able to harness this potential.. the answer to India’s great future is not in quota system but free and sound education for all at the tender ages of 3-15.

  4. You’ll find this type of entreprenuership in every nook and corner of our country, what we need is a proper guidance for these kids. Anyways you should have Bargained :P.
    Nice Stuff, Sir

  5. Oh so this is a sign of a writer ! A story lies within him at every turn. It was a bit of an epiphany for me! I might not be making sense but to clarify-I was wondering if there is a writer in me. I guess in a writer there should be a burning desire to write everything and everywhere.
    Thank you.

  6. YES If only we could learn to harness this potential……..but that requires looking at them without scorn suspicion,sympathy looking beyond the uncouth ways and greasy palms,how many of us (including me) are even capable of doing that??????

  7. There is a phrase “thook laga ke sab kaam hota hai”…same holds true for the blackberry scroller as well. No need for 500 bucks scroller..just touch the tip of finger on your tongue (wet it lol) and scroll! Voila! There goes cleanliness out of the window. Scroller works! Yuck but job done. Don’t know if wetting finger with ‘Paani’ will work 😉

  8. By the way I use sanitizers all through the day. Got habituated after I bought bottles of it in NYC. So I am sure my hands are always clean and I use the sanitizer even after the spit trick (trust me you dont have to do it that frequently). I was frustrated with the scroller and was contemplating buying the new BB bold but then thought about getting the scroller fixed. With no service centres around Andheri- Lokhandwala and the only one in Khar, I decided to keep it for another day. In the meantime guess I got lucky with the discovery like you got with the 6×6 shop.

  9. that was a really beautiful narrative..if only we can ever tap this potential of the indian capability of ” jugaad..”… lovely read..:)

  10. Shouldn’t there be an UN or Um.. sanitation convention claws to human rights acts to demand washing of dem dirty hands after each bb scratch, pee or poo? Surely, that shall eliminate desi diseases galore! BP water cycled from oceans shall be fine for cleaning all dirty thumbs up tweeting and toiling land for l non-oral uses for unwashed masses. Shekhar, you are a genius story teller (varta o varta, bhabho dhor charta…) with punchlines. Kudos for this brilliamt piece of paani for pyasi talents of Indias of the world. Jai Ho!

  11. Congrats and thankyou for sharing your amazing experience of entreprenuerial fewer amongst the youngest generation in the country. Have experienced the same myself with blackberry.

  12. Congrats and thankyou for sharing your honest experience of entreprenuerial fewer amongst the youngest generation in the country.

  13. This ‘potential energy’ of our people can turn the world upside down inside out, once the so called ‘inellectual’ leaders (adults) allow it to be converted into ‘kinetic energy’. Waise lagta hai doosron ki khushi dekhi nahi jati inse- aadat se majboor hai bechare.

  14. That is hilarious. I am glad that you were curious enough to try it out. The adventure does pose some questions to think about. We sure got potential but what we seriously lack is a dream to make it big. Things are changing let us hope India soon becomes the center stage of the world.

  15. could not agree with you more….. from your example and from prof. VG’s eg of reverse innovation we see a trend…. a powerful trend that (lets hope) will turn the fortunes of our country… 🙂

  16. Ya ya ya…. Love us… We are the future… We hack into any technology they throw on us…
    Cellwalas are one of most unique business set up in mumbai… Founder calls himself a slumdog (yet to be) millionaire… 🙂

  17. Hi Shekhar
    liked the way you explained the experience with great Indian Talent that is hidden behind the scenes. They do not have degrees to flash but they can give so called Educated and ruthless MBA’s/Engineers run for their money.

    Hope you keep us entertained in same way.


  18. Shekhar Jee Namaste,

    As we discuss rights, entitlements, social mobility, the bottom of the pyramid, and woes and owus of democracy in general, I wanted to share a video that won the global definition of democracy competition. I am sharing this for two reasons. First, the meaning of democracy as portrayed in this short film (less than 2 minutes) is so real. Very simple but powerfully insightful, penetrating. Second, the film-maker is a young man (aged 20), called Anup Poudel from Nepal. I could see another Shekhar Kapur in the making, with a potential to make a mark in the world cinema from our part of the world.


    Enjoy, (please post it as a thread)


  19. A great article Shekar. It just shows that we are so ready to take that huge leap towards a better India. If only we can get our infrastructure right and provide opportunities to compete to all, all sections of India can flourish.

  20. if “pls wash ur hands before use ” attiribute was introduced to them in the begining , they certainly would be sitting at the hot seat of todays technos… coz our attitudes towards them woudnt stink. i dont know why the talent in our country is getting suffocated and trying to breath inforeign lands.

  21. The real strength of India lies here. Around 30-40 Million entrepreneurs – a huge majority of them financed by their friends and relatives – not through the regular financial system. This has far more inherent strength than the state-controlled chinese system.

    You have come half-way – which is writing about him and let us all know. What about going back to him and help him expand his business?

  22. if we go to the other small towns and villages many uneducated smart self taught mobile and computer technicians found in computer shops and mobile shops.

  23. If we observe closely, their hands could be stained. But when they start to work, they usually wipe their hands with a rag (which could be more stained). They do this to wipe of the dust. Dust is harmful for electronics – not stain. Unfortunately we favor white over colored. White – for purity and superiority. This indeed is one of the biggest problem 🙂

  24. This is a very serious issue presented in the most warmest manner. Do we see a movie in the making? Another Slumdog Millionaire?

  25. 🙂 Nice post!

    This was much better than going to service station! They might have fixed it for free! I got it fixed free when this happened to me. But they took couple of days to turn it around! Compared with the turnaround time, this option is better.

    Yes! The “hole-in-the-wall” shopowners are more innovative! 🙂

  26. nicely written … don’t you think, this should be told to a bigger audience .. how about making a documentary on them and air on natgeo …

  27. A very sensitive post Shekhar…
    I wish the film makers could focus in bringing changes in India rather than running around trees and getting wet, or taking our ‘Youth’ to a fantasy land where they in their 3 hours of movie are fighting with their conflicts within, that they could be a hero like the one in the movie, and become a semi western hero and woo his woman left and right…lol
    Few educational movies have come up…as far as I remember…one was
    Taarei zameen par
    pa was (a stoopid clone)
    3 idiots
    Perhaps teaching this category of folks/children/youth to stand up and fight for their rights , change their attitude, as educational qualification is not the only qualification of life…instead of dwelling in pity…
    Raising their voice at early childhood is a potential problem in India, where the future youth is in constant conflicts of the voices that have been snubbed in the family since childhood…even at age 18 they are considered as babies, (selectively) and thus leading to irresponsible citizens….
    on these lines where youth and the genral public feel a thought changed in them forever with a positive aspect!

  28. see he knows there is an iP4 and also how to unlock it 🙂 and i won’t wonder if he knows crappy antenna issue too.. and tell u the cheapest way to fix it 😛

  29. LoL Good one Shekhar ! You gottu give it to their spirit and attitude…so much for the highly paid “professionals” passed out from premier institutes, strutting abt with the latest gadgets, having fancy homes and swanky cars, mostly to be bored out of their minds at 30, have a heart attack at 40 and pretty much reach the end of their lives even before they have begun….

  30. “Cellphoon reapars” — LOL. In a country of more than a billion people most living out of slums and suchlike, such pleasant surprises arent statistically surprising. Nice post though.

  31. nice read..
    n am sure..we all have experienced this hidden talent at some time or the other..but still we dont give much of thinking abt it..
    i had a similar experience..thr was a breakage in my laptop’s power adapter..while all the ell known dealers said that..thr was no solution and i had 2 buy a new adapter, in a very small kind of shop, 1 mechanic used the “jugaad” technology to repair my adapter..

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