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.

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

  1. Mukund Vashist says:

    Knowledge has no limitations. Using rights kills at right place & right place matters. It’s not only in India, but if we open our eys with infinitely broad horizons, we can find such miracles (whatever we can call) everywhere. Knowledge has no nationalism, no religion & no boundaries. Presentation also matters. We go to service centers for better presentations, ettiquette. Actually the risk of loss is less out there. But places like “Hole in the Wall”, its just a gamble. Probability of occurance of an unforseseen at such place is more compared to service center. I feel the narrator is just lucky…

  2. Anand says:

    I am a new user of BB. I am happy that quick fix is available for BB as well…

  3. NIkhil says:

    whats so big in this!? Just because shekar kapoor discovered this simple thing so late!! These sort of shops exist almost in all cities(big/small) now a days!!
    The same about mechanics…most kids can fix scooters and bikes in a jiffy which me being a mechanical engineer cannot do in a life time….There is no way you can harness and make it organized…the beauty of this business lies in the fact that its unorganized..!!
    PEACE

  4. Sitarman says:

    The only sad part, the 19 year old can at best ask for Rs 500 and one would still end up negotiating with him. Go to a branded service center shop, the same mechanic would end up charging you Rs 5000 and you will come out of the shop smiling having saved your phone.

  5. Mukund Vashist says:

    Regret for the typo error above… The corrected say is…
    Knowledge has no limitations. Using rights skills at right place & at right time matters. Its not only in India, but if we open our eys with infinitely broad horizons, we can find such miracles (whatever we call) everywhere. Knowledge has no nationalism, no religion & no boundaries. Presentation also matters. We go to service centers for better presentations & ettiquette. Actually the risk of loss is less out there. But places like Hole in the Wall, its just a gamble. Probability of occurance of an unforseseen at such place is more compared to service centers. I feel the narrator is just lucky

    A few more lines…

    It is just the vivid interest of the different people. Ther are Techno freeks, who crazy about anything that has technology. Its a dialy scene at Chor Bazaar, where an illiterate can assemble a MAC / Windows latest congig for you. People can even fix a Maruti 800 engine to a Bentley Body. People at these reputed brand companies burn the midnight oil, scratch their heads to do what not. But all it takes for such local geniuz is to identify the pattern & follow it… simple for them.

    As said above, using right skills at right place & at right time, in TV channels like Discovery, Nat Geo channels there were broadcasts of How Terrorists work. I have seen some very small kids are well versed in Bomb making. Here once again, such knowlegde & skills are used for destructive purposes.

    Once again, Knowledge has no boundaries & limitation. Education has a power to guide one’s brain to use his / her knowledge & skills for a constructive cause. Labelling the information based on Nationalism, Gender or any dividing / provoking words / phrases must be given a thought…

    These are my global & generic views…

  6. Utpal says:

    I love this piracy to exist.Otherwise those smart and suave service center-wallas will start charging you in crores one day.

  7. Yamini says:

    I absolutely agree about the grassroot level genuises…we recently had a problem with our Wii game adaptor … and were really worried if it needs a replacement from US..then a quick google search gave me a contact in the bylanes of Crawford market…we saw 3 young guys cramped into a very tiny first floor room surrounded by various spare parts, equiptments of PSP,Wii,PS2….and bingo he knew the problem in a minute and got it resolved within no time..

  8. R.Surya Kumar says:

    Great article! Seriously, services at such small places are more quicker & efficient than the ones provided at the qualified service locations… These small (so called immatured) service men are far better than the genuine qualified ones – in service as well as billing! JAI HO…

  9. Naveen says:

    This post drives home the point that common, untrained people are ingenious, smart and practical. Harnessing this potential would be interesting. I am surprised to see these many comments about blackberries, cars etc. that seems to miss the central point the author is making!

  10. Rahul Pandhe says:

    There is another parallel story here. At rs 500 for that fix, why is this “hole in a wall”. Why aren’t they living clean like I am sure some kids in rural India do at much much less than that.
    Lot of people make lot of money in India, they just don’t care for civic sense.

  11. Leena says:

    Really Gr8 Exp No one is Small before Knowledge

  12. Minakshi Karan says:

    Dear Sir,
    Today only went through this write up also. This is simply superb that you have shared with us. INDIA is really having great of greatest talent. The only thing s required to nurture them. For this we should wait for any govt,etc to start but it can be started with the efforts of aam adami.

    Minakshi

  13. Samarth says:

    You could’ve done it yourself had you just Googled your problem. You didn’t even need that new 5 rupee ball. Just needed to clean the sensor like in those old ball computer mice.

  14. This is what makes India different from others and why it succeeds.
    We know how to get things done and at minimum cost…

    Its the power of Jugaad..!

  15. […] 2, 2010 A few days ago, one of my friends passed a post from the blog of Shekhar Kapur, the well-known film director/ producer. It was an amazing tale of how a youngster […]

  16. Abdul Qabiz says:

    Awesome! It’s so true. I witness these so often in my city Kanpur, which is hub of mobile/electronic shops.

    It’s really amazing, how one of guys here learnt to jail-break iPhone just after it was launched. I can imagine, not all of them have internet access, then amazing knowledge-sharing.

  17. Praveen Tamhankar says:

    This is not jugaad but what we can say repair n use.
    One of the best thing about India.

    Even there are differences in service center rates.
    I went to a cellphone service center in Mumbai and they charge people just for checking what the problem was. But at my hometown , a small city, the same company service center guy charged me nothing. He even told me the estimated cost.

  18. One word for this article , Bravo !!! I stumbled here through my facebook newsfeed and am now forced to add this site to my favorites…..a really nice article which awakens in us a pride for our country as well as makes us a realize that while we make such tantrums in our offices about being under-paid , over-worked , more-intelligent-than-our-boss, we actually stand nowhere in comparison to the millions like these found in every nook and corner across the country….

  19. @nks says:

    kudos to uneducated engineers of India

  20. gnowgi says:

    However, the big multinational companies and Govt are hand-in-hand to destroy this culture. The mumbai taxis, eg, were maintained by the small time garages when Feat doesn’t even produce the spare parts. Those cars are being damaged destroying several taxi drivers’s life in the name of pollution or other excuse. Barely a few years ago these taxis were all converted into CNG engines, and now they have been asked to shift to new cars. Instead of eliminating them we should find ways of including them.

  21. The real fact of india what you just glimpsed.
    It is just” PRACTISE MAKES A MAN PERFERCT”.

    India is a price sensitive market and people with lots of money never explore these sort of parallel market.

  22. Soumen says:

    This is business…A bloody dirty technical nigar taught Sekhar…..

    At least Sekhar recognised it …astonished, some people (MBAs) regularly see it but do not understand…Write word ‘Business’ and ‘Customer Service’ without knowing the real meaning of it frequently almost in every page of their reports which help crash good running business regularly…

    Thanks for sharing such an incident.

  23. shyan says:

    amazing read…. & i love how it ends… oops… this is just the beginning(for them)!

  24. Atul says:

    and you will probably get a free service if this things fails within 3 months.

  25. Rashmi says:

    Pretty cool

  26. This is why Bottom Of the Pyramid concept was envisaged for India.
    Blackberry is fighting MHA & other GOI reservations, probably both should check out @ Juhu Mumbai for this person…..

  27. Lalit Burma says:

    Boy I am addicted to your blog.

  28. Gico Dayanghirang says:

    We’ve had a truck driver in the farm who could barely read or write. But he could fix anything wrong with the truck or with any mechanical device (electric generator, firearm, alarm clock, toy etc…). He has even fashioned an air gun from scraps for his son using my own son’s expensive air gun as design model. I bet he could fix a Blackberry if he were still around. He has passed away by the way. Apparently, the guy is a genius and could easily picture in his mind how a truck or a mechanical device works and could easily determine what’s wrong and how to fix it. If this guy has had an engineering degree, he would be fixing or even building spaceships! I think the Blackberry fixer also has the same talent. This is how much education is important to the poor. These two guys would’ve been elsewhere earning big bucks had they had some decent education. But granting that the opportunity has passed, is it possible to give these geniuses some informal course or certification that they can use to secure better paying jobs or a bank loan for a business related to their talent? If a government agency for instance could give a simple test and certify the Blackberry fixer as “reliable” his hole in the wall would’ve a long line of customers. He could perhaps secure a small loan for tools and a waiting tent with stools for customers.

  29. Ravi says:

    Recently, I went to HP laptop service center because my laptop not working. He told me to change the processor which costs for 20k or you have to got to US for this imported product again i went to first floor in the same building (Lapcare services) & they fixed for 1000 bugs( ofcourse , you have to bargain). See……even HP company guys told me in fluent nice english that it cannot fixed. but these guys fixed..

  30. anonymous says:

    wow…i know india has unlimited talent…it just needs to be given the oppurtunity to come out. Nice post with a nice message.

  31. There is a whole sub-market inside of the discipline of the mobile phone market area related to the jailbreak or unlocking of the cellular phones so that they can be employed on any mobile network, and current Supreme Court selections in the USA handed down have confirmed that the jailbreak sector is legal and authentic. That is, finish-consumer buyers are very inside their legal rights to do what they want to their cellular telephone handset to enable the mobile phone to perform on other network carriers which is commonly regarded as jailbreak or unlocking the network block.
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  32. Thanks for the post!!..But i think India is very advanced and has a good mobile Market.. Blackberry has very successfully captured the market!!..

  33. esha says:

    brilliant post.

  34. Romesh says:

    This shows that if you know how to use your head meat then u can do anything whether trained or not

  35. […] — This article is © 2011 internationally-acclaimed film director Shekhar Kapoor. […]

  36. Jarul says:

    Brilliant ! It takes an encompassing eye to recognise talent in the grass roots of India!!! Ingenious!

  37. N.S. Sreenivasan says:

    Fantastic. No comments to make. Such kids are really genius. Not only in the field of electronics but in other fields like automobile, electrical and many other field such brilliant kids are there. Do they like to remain like that or even if they want to enter the sophisticated service areas, because for lack of qualifications they can not enter.

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  40. Mukesh Nyati says:

    Talent is not limited by country or any man-made boundries. We all know that these kind of anecdotal stories everywhere…I am just amazed that Shekhar Kapur sahib were using an out-dated track-ball BB in 2010 :) and more puzzled that he didn’t have any back-up or never seems to have sync his phone!!

    RE that track-ball fix, well, its not a difficult job, my bigger concern is fixing is one thing creating somthing is other!!

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  42. marina says:

    What a lovely, inspiring story. It made my day. Thank you (from Argentina).

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  44. “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen.
    And waste its sweetness in the desert air,
    Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
    The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear”

    Dear Shekar,

    There are very talented actors even among the villagers.( you-think-they -are-uneducated segment of India.)

    You had good education today, thanks to your broken cell phone.

    E=out and ducere-to deliver. “Every new born child is a genius; only to become an idiot in school” wrote Dr. Alexis Carrel, a Noel Laureate. Because these two kids did not go to school they are doing what a top IITian could (would) not do. The latter have their inhibitions. These two have no such constraints.

    How true?

    With your star status please give these two boys some visibility through the 24/7 TVs which are wasting their time on showing useless things! You will have done great service to mankind. Use your clout with the electronic media.

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