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”

‘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 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 ?”

‘yes’.

‘backed up ?’

‘no’

‘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 Responses to “A Blackberry addict discovers grassroots enterprise in India”

  1. shekhar says:

    Dear Archana, I called your number and left a message with my cell phone number, let me know if u received it, thanks, Shekhar

  2. Sharad Tibrewala says:

    Very interesting experience but its true that Indians are very smart and efficient but not organised like the foreigners.

    I shall share this with my many friends.

  3. ???? ?? ?? ?? ??? ?? ?? ??? ???
    ????? ?? ???? ?? ????? ?? ?????? ????

    ???? ?? ??? ??? ????? ?? ???? ??
    .????? ????? ?? ???? ??? ?? ??? ??? ?

    ??? ?? ???? ?? ???? ,????? ??? ???? ??
    ???? ??? ??? ?? ??? ????? ??????? ??? ?

    ?? ????? ??? ??? ?? ??? ????? ???? ??
    ???? ?? ???? ?? ???? ??? ??????? ??? ?

    ???? ?????? ?? ???? ????? ???? ??? ??? ???
    ???? ??? ??? ??? ????? ???? ?????? ??? ?

    ?????????? ???????? @ ???? ?????
    http://www.kavideepaksharma.com

  4. smiley says:

    🙂 😀

  5. Naresh says:

    You are an amazing story teller. The way you narrated made me feel as if i am getting my own blackberry serviced. Allow me to post this article on my site http://www.admanya.com
    Washing hands before using a blackberry!! its hillarious..
    Blackberry has become a new God. 🙂

  6. Seo Tips says:

    I seriously believe that the new Indian rupee symbol is really cool. That makes it the fifth currency symbol out there, right?

  7. Shekhar… not sure if you have visited the Chandni of Calcutta. It is full of geniuses like these two. They can fix anything in the world. And yet they will probably never get recognized. I am sure you have been told that, this was some amazing narration with a message. Kudos to all three of you !!

  8. SVSAI BABA says:

    We can find a lot of such enterprising youth talent in the famous Richi Street of Chennai.
    We can fix anything in Blackberry,iphone etc for a nominal fees. As described by you in your narration most of them are young people around 18 years.

  9. Mathu says:

    Dear Mr Shekhar

    There are lot of people live in this whole india with inherent talent not exposed suitably and they dint even knew these are the talents.
    Who is going to find those talents and use it effectively is nobodys’ guess. I think they spend their remaining lives unnoticed with unheralding attitude.
    Nice piece of information apt for a 5 mts documentary.

    Mathu

  10. Thyagarajan says:

    Dear sir,

    Very much interesting to go thru this experience of S kapur. Though our boys looks shabby they are intelligent and smart, even though they are poor but smart. Kudos to these boys. Talented like you should encourage these type of boys. Wash our hands before we do anything. Good to know from these boys.

    Thyagarajan

  11. Rahul Prashar says:

    This is an amazing story… so real!!!

    There are millions of such geniuses among us but when Slumdog Millionaire is made, they are not shown. It is just the poverty, corruption and politics which gets the hot-seat. What is more sad is that the whole world enjoys watching this.

    I know that you are a genius and will certainly bring out this side of India to the world. It might not get you an Oscar but I know it will certainly get you and India the kind of respect we want.

    Maybe I am not that intelligent enough to put the right words here but I know you got the message here 🙂

  12. Sampathkumar S says:

    If such young geniuses are organised, sure, India can become a super power soon. Personolities like you can do that.

  13. Kannapiran says:

    Buddy,
    You are a great story teller. I see it as a gripping short story apart from whaat you wish to convey.
    Great Going

  14. I admit im not technology mad and will not be spending 35 quid a month on an iphone or any such thing, but I can understand they are very good and other people do have the money for those sort of things

  15. Night rider says:

    This reminds me of the riot that took place in front of KFC in India. The riot was about finding some flies found inside the eatery. Perhaps they were on the table. The point is, flies? inside a restaurant? in India? Phoooh…… what a joke. It is like the boys telling you to wash hands before using blackberry.

    I must hand it to you. You tell the story very nicely with so much humor as if I am there in front of that shop.

  16. Night rider says:

    There is a grammatical error, please correct = remove “found” in the second sentence. Thanks.

  17. Rama says:

    Wonderful experience, from experienced kids!!!! There are so many other kids, who cam set right latest televsions, cars, diital cameras and the like. Unfortunately they have no aspirations to make it BIG neither do they have the finance !! Nice reading, however. Regards Sir!

  18. Rama says:

    Sorry for the typographical erors, above !

  19. JR says:

    Kudos to you, for bringing out a very real but often unrecognised asset that India has. When will they reach their full potential? Lends credence to the saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” It is people like you, who can serve their cause, by such writings.
    Makes a good plot for a movie too, don’t you think? Has great potential, at least for a short documentary!
    JR

  20. Pioneer says:

    Quite inspiring and very true. Excellently described in words.

  21. Prabha says:

    Hmmm….. Very interesting experience ,one that leaves you wondering about how evrything is about perception.We go with the prices at lables and never question it.We pay what service centres ask us because we do not have a choice, we assume that education is all about going to school where true education is in real life experiences. School is only for literacy.
    On another note,I have observed that the younder generation is more easily adapting to technology .My niece of four plays the games in Nintendo with such ease and dexterity,I am only left gaping.Life and its revelations are amazing ….and so is your narration

  22. Pranav says:

    I’m surprised Shekhar, didn’t you already know that India is the techie hub of the world? It’s not the only one, but then we seem to be overflowing with techies – like you said – they seem to be crammed in to every nook and cranny in this country. Let me tell you about my friend who is a sales and marketing professional, with an MBA and has been ‘selling’ stuff for a long time. But guess what his passion is – repairing gadgets 🙂 So that’s India for you – some techies are apparent, a lot of them are not; but they’re everywhere. Viva la difference 😉

  23. Akshay Bhatnagar says:

    Hi Shekhar,

    There are lots of techie guys in all over INDIA, who can do such small task in few minutes..i booked IPHONE 4G before it was available in US.

  24. swapnil says:

    what a well written article this is!!!

    reminds me of anil kapoor in mr. india telling the kids to wash their hands…

  25. Rao GK says:

    Shekhar,

    Isn’t it sufficient material to be included in one of your forthcoming Films ?

  26. Raveessant says:

    To many of living in the U.S or Europe, a trip to India is a must every year. It’s here many things essential for life in the abroad is cheaply available.. it’s common to see many U.S based Indians visiting India to gets a suit tailored, or a set of shoes made to order…getting watches repaired… new spectacles made.. a trip to the Dentist.. medical check ups.. to persuade parents to become Aayahs to look after their kids in their own country.. in a nut shell to many desi’s a trip to India each year is inevitable.. I compare these trips to India like a trip Indians make to their neighborhood Bhindi Bazaar. Eventhough there is no scope for any sophistication at all…. there is substance for those who know how to tap it… one can get anything here and for the best price provided you know how to snag it… the vendors are not worried about regulations.. there are several thousands of people here doing crores of business amidst a billion flies and in the filthiest of surroundings… no scope for hygiene here.. no one can question the people or system that prevails here.. no government official or police would ever dare to step in here and enforce the law.. mob rules apply here… as one heavily loaded truck is backing up.. hundreds of auto rikshas, bikes are whizzing past the hundreds of people who vend and buy stuff there.. To many MNC’s, India is like a Bhindi Bazaar where it makes business sense to seek and extract quality products and services at the lowest price and the best quality..

  27. Satish says:

    To many of living in the U.S or Europe, a trip to India is a must every year. It’s here many things essential for life abroad is cheaply available.. it’s common to see many U.S based Indians visiting India to gets a suit tailored, or a set of shoes made to order…getting watches repaired… new spectacles made.. a trip to the Dentist.. medical check ups.. to persuade parents to become Aayahs to look after their kids in their own country.. in a nut shell to many desi’s a trip to India each year is inevitable.. I compare these trips to India like a trip Indians make to their neighborhood Bhindi Bazaar. Eventhough there is no scope for any sophistication at all…. there is substance for those who know how to tap it… one can get anything here and for the best price provided you know how to snag it… the vendors are not worried about regulations.. there are several thousands of people here doing crores of business amidst a billion flies and in the filthiest of surroundings… no scope for hygiene here.. no one can question the people or system that prevails here.. no government official or police would ever dare to step in here and enforce the law.. mob rules apply here… as one heavily loaded truck is backing up.. hundreds of auto rikshas, bikes are whizzing past the hundreds of people who vend and buy stuff there.. To many MNC’s, India is like a Bhindi Bazaar where it makes business sense to seek and extract quality products and services at the lowest price and the best quality..

  28. Col. Hanspal , Bangalore says:

    Not hard to believe, coz in my restaurant I have an uneducated19 Year old Buhari Dish-washer, who can strip any Nokia Phone, make all sorts of download arrangements, very conversant with blue tooth and thorough with ALL the Applications, which you and I , really have to struggle after reading the manual- 90% without results.

  29. Avishek says:

    Awesome! You have great narrative skills. Besides, this can make a great welcoming speech at the start of the session for the schools at the rural india to inspire kids to learn.

  30. Vibha says:

    Amazingly funny and I know from experience that there are lots of little (age wise) geniuses in India. The street urchins are also pretty street smart in their persuasions and talents. One wonders if India was as developed as the west ..will we all see such smart kids? As I believe the deep hunger,poverty and the lack of basic necessities is pushing these kids to learn things faster and become more smarter and get some gratification and satisfaction from knowing they can do anything to survive. Their confidence in simply extraordinary.
    Is it the laid back attitute of all the priveledge kids in the world makes their intelligence rust some times as they really do not have to struggle as things are handed to them and they have the protection of their parents and family? I really do not have any firm answers to my own querry.

  31. NEENA VASUDEVA says:

    absolutely amazing. I truely believe that this is a reality and the kids of today are something special.

  32. Ralph says:

    Thanks for your film on Elizabeth. I for one am glad you did not go the “3 idiots way” and remain a CA (like me!).

    You need to switch your Blackberry to a model with the track-pad instead of the ball.

    I routinely check out the users critical comments on amazon.com before buying anything

  33. too good. 🙂 reminds me of the makeshift electrician who repaired my inverter in an hour after the company gave me a uote ten times higher and a time line of few months. still running after a year.

  34. Chandrahas Dayal says:

    This is fantastic !– but not surprising. We see such extra ordinary talent in other walks of life too; whether car repairs or singing; electrical equipments or dancing. Keeps us amazed, sometimes bewildered but always happy.

  35. Wow Shekhar this is an amazing story….probably you should post this guy’s address and give him some free publicity and customers too. 🙂

  36. Bill Hodges says:

    What a great story, except the part about the dirty unkept kid and his dirty handed brother running the shop. Having just spent three weeks in India I was amazed at how clean the people themselves were in an area where cleanliness is difficult. Most of the shop keepers were fastidious in their dress and certainly I did not experience people working in shops haveing grubby hands. I loved India and the people.

  37. Subhash Bhojwani says:

    Reminds me of the time the broken gear lever retaining cap on my trusty Fiat 1100 was fixed (reapared?) by a roadside mechanic in Chitoor, while I was on a drive from Madras to Hyderabad on posting in 1972. Amazingly the young man re-engineered the complex shaped broken part within an hour, including the screw threads, by merely looking at the broken pieces – no measuring instruments were used, just his well worn electric lathe and a hand held file. His replacement part lasted till I sold the car 3 years later.

    Remember the Class of ’62

  38. pushpa suryamurty says:

    Why wasn’t I informed of this earlier? And I’m not even far from Juhu. Now for the same trackball problem, and within the warranty period my phone’s gone to B’lore as it seems in Mumbai they’re not given permission to open it.Ofcourse with the data and not getting the data back for certain. I wonder how these brothers were given permission to open the same. Good for you.

  39. GK says:

    This is the bottom level of money but not the talent.

    This had been going on for a long time in many fields in India

    Who were servicing your cars, and bikes typewriters Fridge, ACs? They were always by these 10 year olds only. Changing of cables without change of casing, fixing all electrical problems, refills of consumables and all such works. Open the complete engine and refitting the same were by the same road side and hole in the wall shops.

    There are a number of such talents who can fix computers, modems, printers and what nots for a very small fraction of price and all in a jiffy before your eyes. The manufactures of all printers cry hoarse that never go for refill of their empty cartridges but buy a new cartridge for ten times the price. Yet refill of toner powder works well for a small fraction of price. This is accepted practice even by big companies to keep check on the cost of office running.

    It is these enterprises which started giving a run their moneys for the big business houses and they spend crores of money advertising and trying to “educate” their customers not to go these holes in the walls and spend a fortune for servicing their equipments and pay them a hefty sum for their “Authorised” services.

  40. There are a group of brothers in Honnavar who do Watch & Mobile phone repairs. I have an Archos MP3 (French) player that was having charging problems. I e-mailed them for a repair manual. Sorry no help was the response. It needed a special tool to open which I got from Home Depot on one of my visits to the US. The Geek Squad at Best Buy shook their heads. Never seen this before. No dice at a shop in Mumbai either. Armed with this tool I showed up at my local Honnavar shop. Between the two of us, his nimble fingers that opened the device and performed the de-soldering and soldering operations we were able to fix it. Turns out the guy is aware of Audio Op Amps, and repairs stereos as well.

    People like these and the example above keeps my hopes alive on an India that adapts and progresses, despite the hardships people face. In the US these guys would be repair Gods!

  41. Kartik says:

    Dear Shekhar:

    I “proudly” enjoyed reading your experience.

    I am currently in the so called modern part of the world “Canada”.I can with great disappointment state that I truly miss these anywhere / anytime reasonably priced and accurately done fixes.

  42. Vivek Mundkur says:

    There is a rag picker kid living near a garbage dump, wandering around on the road. I realised that he has the most amazing repair skills.

    He finds broken electronic toys and gadgets in the garbage, thrown away by rich kids and repairs them. I am sure he will become a hole in the wall repair genius soon.

    Bunker Roy’s Barefoot College is an institution in Rajasthan where they teach illiterate people skills like dentistry, solar engineering, computer repairs…. They give no paper degrees but skills that poor people can use to improve their lives. They have challenged our education system.

  43. ShekharJi,

    Very Interesting read, thanks for that, yeah the bottom of the pyramid is I think the next big thing

  44. MOHAMMED MAZHAR says:

    shekar thanx for sharing ur experience with us and i belive indians are best as far the tech support goes and will u plz let me knw the address of the shop and if i have any problems with my stuff so dat i can contact the kids

  45. Danji Thotapalli says:

    These kind of experiences totally hit me.
    Last year when I went to Hyderabad on work, I carried some expensive red wine for friends. I checked into my room and the bell boy looked at me in a certain way. Soon, I discovered that the wine bottles had cracked and my clothes were completely drenched in red wine. I groaned!
    It was early morning on Saturday and I was at my wits end. I called the bell desk and they gave me a couple of phone numbers of local dry cleaners. I called them and one of them showed up at my door within the hour. He picked up the whole suitcase – business suites, white shirts, silk kurtas and all – and promised to get them back the next day. He gave me his business card and directions to his workshop just in case. I was unsure about what he was trying to do. After all, I have heard many a time that once you have red wine on your shirt, it’s end of story for that piece of garment.
    Anyway, I had no choice. In any case, my back-up plan was to go and buy myself some new clothes.
    Next day, I decided to visit the laundry. After about an hour’s drive through the city and through gallis of Secunderabad, I stepped into this house-kinda of thing. It had electrical wires all over and 60 watts bulbs. The gentleman whom I had met previously come up with a smile and said, “saar, everything taken care of. please check them”. I checked out the clothes and they were all free of red wine. The shirts and pants very nicely ironed and newspapered, and the suits were on hangers.
    I think I paid him Rs 2000 or something – I didn’t even care. I was so happy and pleased with the whole experience.
    In the US, the same thing would have cost me a lot more and the key thing is – it would have taken a week or more to get done. And for all I know, it would not have got done at all. After all, why would any good American want to take on a difficult and challenging job?
    I totally agree with the statement – “if only we could learn to harness this potential”.

  46. Ramachandra says:

    There is a genius called Vaava here in Coimbatore. He is just a genius. U see I had a IRIVER-MP3 20GB player that I had purchased in Australia and recently, after I moved to Bhaarath, it broke down.. the scroller was no longer working. I immediately tried to look up the nearest IRIVER centre here and found that I may probably have to re-send it to Sydney. It was then I casually googled MP3 repairers in Coimbatore and came across Vaava. I rang him up. He told me to come to his downtown shop. I went there and it was a reeky-deeky shop and first look, I wanted to turn and run. No way I was going to risk my AUD 400 MP3 player with this vaava. But the man behind the counter sensed my panic and put me at ease with a charming smile. “No problems sir… I can easily repair your IRIVER…”… Finally after a bit of hesitation, I surrendered the MP3 player to him…”. He told me to come back in a week’s time. After a week I called him. He replied sheepishly…”Success sir..MP3 is working”.. I sped to the shop and the look on the front of my MP3 was a bit changed..but he had put some indigenous system (made with absolute common sense) to make the scroller working and it has never given me trouble since…He charged Rs 700 but it was worth it..

  47. Avinash says:

    Don’t know if you read your comments and more importantly, respond to them. Got a question for you … How do I get to this place? Don’t need GPS coordinates to get there; but if I can get my iPhone jail-broken, worth a visit 🙂

  48. Nishanth.K says:

    There are so many like them among us. I will definitely forward this to everyone I know. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  49. arun k jha says:

    Good that Blackberry users have started knowing it now, so that the boy and his like get more customers.Otherwise people in India know it very well that Indians can recycle anything and everything. Just observe how a large nos of such shops thriving everywhere in India.

  50. uttara says:

    Hello Shekhar uncle,

    I think you narrated this story to dad recently, and he forwarded it to me. Since moving back to India, I too have had moments like that where some example of entrepreneurship in India has amazed me, as also have I had moments where some instance of lethargy and idiocy in India has perplexed me. Anyway, I have been desperately trying to find some “entrepreneur” dodgy enough to unlock my phone for me- I MUST find this fellow in Juhu Market! I’ll keep a look-out for the CellPhoon sign, but is there any other landmark or direction you can give me?
    Cheers,
    Uttara.

Leave a Reply