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. Wonderful narration, Mr. Kapur. I am not awestruck by what you say, since I get to see similar kids in our across the road garage who repair 2-wheelers and 4-wheelers all the time. New or old model, small or big problem, nothing is beyond them. I had a very old phone bought in 2003, and when it broke down, all I had to spend was Rs. 150 to get it back to working, and thankfully all the phone numbers were retrieved without difficulty.

  2. Shekhar, perhaps the Blackberrys'(the company, not the phone) should hire these geniuses, and then they could provide a better “world class” service in every city!

  3. I dont believe this story. I think it is made up. Please provide the address of this ‘hole in the wall’ shop.

  4. Dear Shekhar,

    I also had same problem with my Blackberry 8310. I have found 2 solutions:

    1. Purchase blackberry trackball replacement from e-bay. Chinese suppliers sell it for USD 3 or so including shipping. My brother ordered 2 and both arrived promptly by ordinary post from Singapore /Taiwan. I don’t remember. Number of videos are available on You tube telling us how to replace a trackball assembly

    2. Open the trackball from blackberry (see point-1). Dip it in Isopropyl alcohol (available at local chemist / homoeopathy shops – don’t remember where i purchased from). for one night and next day put it back and it would at least start working. On you tube videos are available showing how to open trackball and clean it. But it requires very steady hand and good eye sight. I tried once but have not been very successful.

    Regarding indigenous genius of India read my blog regarding experience with problem with my Indica car at http://rjkothari.blogspot.com/2005/12/whats-use-of-authorized-service.html

    Rajesh Kothari

  5. Very true…. I have a firm belief there is no technology in the world that cannot be duplicated/tempered in these 6feet by 6feet shops

  6. Its part of the ethos that Mumbai is….from the poshest of Showrooms to the hole in the wall quick fixes .To each his own…

  7. Shekhar
    Herein lies the answer to half of the world’s sustainability issues – the ‘anything can be fixed’ attitude. Everytime I consign a toaster, washing machine, refrigerator or even a sofa which needs reuphostering to the dump just because fixing it costs almost as much a buying a new one, I think nostalgically of home where white goods become part of the family because they have neen injected with new life every time they come up with an ailment…..

  8. you’re right ! we must harness such geniuses or are they geneii ! give thr contact details

  9. I had a similar experience recently when my older iPod 30 GB conked out alongwith the navigational wheel and a similar set of unkempt boys put it into shape but yes did take 2 days in sourcing canabalized parts which were not available otherwise. That day I had completed 5 trouble-free years of service 🙂

    Here’s saluting our jugaadi on-the-move-heroes-of-the-street …

  10. Thanks Shekhar for sharing this.

    Fantastic post. This is not just a unique case. I am an entrepreneur myself and stay in Delhi. Its not just about technology. Where a Maruti workshop asks you about INR 4000 to change your car’s back, a small time, torn T-shirt wearing guy told me this: Sir, I fix this, 200 rupaya, and if I don’t, I pay you! And wallah with a uniquely amazing way of shaping plastic which I saw for the first time in life, which costs you nothing more than INR 15, he did it in 30 minutes.

    I paid him more than he demanded, but was amazed with the “Jugaad” we Indians do, and as en entrepreneur, I can say, we have lots of such fantastic talent available and we must create a strong ecosystem around them, to take them mainstream!

  11. nice post,mr kapur… good for the jugaad and get it done attitude and the mumbai ( india) magic – anything is possible eh!! …was he really bugging you about washing hands ???

  12. its amazing to know the upcoming talent of young indian minds irrespective of educational backgrounds.Keep it up

  13. Your post reminded me of a story my brother (who blogs at http://nirmalyadebroy.blogspot.com/) once told me.
    Once upon a time there was a barber in a village. He was also the de-facto local surgeon who took care of all the surgical needs of the village. Operating seamlessly through any boils, tumors any other ailment that came across and his hand never trembled.
    One day a trained physician was passing by when the barber was in action. After he was done with, he asked the barber how could you perform with so much confidence?
    The barber repliedwhat is the big deal. I am doing this regularly!
    The Physician said if you had cut a little bit extra on the right it would have severed the vein that supplies blood to the right side of the brain. The blood circulation to the brain would have stopped leaving the patient paralyzed. And he went on to explain exactly where each vein and nerve and tissues and muscles and all the other body components were. He also described in detail what the risks were if something gone a little wrong.
    Next time he went to perform a surgery, his hand was trembling and he was not sure where to cut and how much to cut. He was worried about the result as he was aware of the possibilities.
    Knowledge makes a big difference! (sometimes)

  14. I had a Nokia which got drenched in water. The service centre told they would not touch it and that i had to buy a new phone. The same place where i bought my phone said he would repair it for 500 rupees. And surprise surprise, he did it. Phone is working perfectly fine now. This is in Bangalore.

  15. You do not need Isopropyl Alcohol to clean the electronic parts. Even your after shave will do very well.

    In the past I have cleaned the drum of the VCR many many times with Old Spice.

  16. Hi.!! The trackball on my bold 9000 works fine; but the click that is associated with the
    Trackball is not working since a week now. I need to really press the ball hard for any
    Command to get accepted.
    Do I need to replace my bold’s trackball or is it some other problem??
    Please advice..

  17. Shekhar,

    You seem to be new to India!

    Have you had a car repaired anywhere from Colaba to Thane and seen them work, 10 year old and 20 year old guys working on Marutis and Hyundais . I as a Mech Engineer have watched their work with awe. They work under a tree on the street in rain and can open a wiper motor and diagnose and fit a part in 30 minutes (and give a few tips–keep your hands clean!).

    If corporates like L&T hire those ingenuous souls, they will kill all their ingenuity in six months. We are capable of it.

    Long live India and Indian jugaad.

  18. We travel the world and come home to Mahan Bharat.The greatness and potential of this country is amazing. It is our will to succeed at every level of society that will take us to amazing heights.. if only we can downsize our government and triple their salaries so that good peolple can govern without being forced to be corrupt.. that will also happen.. India Inc .. where we all work together with pride..and the Aam Adami can also prosper , not necessarily in a western materialistic way, but in having the basics (not greed) to be happy and at peace with nature around them.. let the CW games get over, so we can soul search.. and debate (we r good at that too) , and let people like you and me create small areas of excellance, in whatever we do and know well.. to demo and create a multiplier effect for our great India !! Jai Hind..

  19. I read this article about the Blackberry with interest. Just two points I have to make. These boys may not have been greasy or unbathed. From what I know about the poor Indian children they are spotlessly clean – they take themselves to the community well every day to bathe. I visited India a few years ago and was amazed to see how spotlessly clean the poor were. The children in the Government free schools had spotlessly clean school uniforms. Also who says they are “uneducated”. I think not.
    India is a wonderful country – I know I was born there.

  20. Anyoone can fix any phone after readin abt it online tutorials or using it for 6 months if he or she wants to and lets not make shekhar kaapor a hero for discovering this n if this is the case , i can fix it in 2 minutes rather than 6 minutes…so ppl lets not make a news out of anyting for anyone

  21. i shouldnt be shocked that this web space has been wasted in writin jus cuz she found it amusing abt her blackberry being repaired by a young guy also i shouldn’t be surprised if she or like her millions of foolish users of Blackberry dont know that how to use complete 100% features of their respective devices, aint that funny ppl so swapna is being unaware n ye Blackberry can be hacked in to in 10 minutes, i can do that, anyone who has a query about their blackberries being repaired or not finding a solution can mail me on my iD and also Nokia Smart phone issues as well. cheers … Andy

  22. This is an unexpected and out of the box reason why a blackberry does not work well…..this is the true india…we do need to preserve it….

    Thank You sir for bringing up such a unique article which many of us might ignore….

  23. i’ve heard that “necessity is the mother of invention” i’ll twist it a little bit to “necessity is the mother of innovation”. innovation it is which is shown by the two kids. they had got urge to know the technological nitty-gritty. more importantly, they had got urge to survive. this made them innovators. for you (Mr. Shekhar Kapur), it was very difficult to find a single Research In Motion (makers of Blackberry) service centre in a city like Mumbai, but it is very easy to find such service agents in many parts of the country. people call them underprivileged, uneducated, etc. bt that underprivileged and uneducated can do what any ordinary person cannot. i would like to thank you sir because through this medium, you have told the world what a kid (aged 10 with no knowledge, nothing) can do. even crack the code for the new apple i-phone “4”.
    this is what what the real INDIA is.

  24. It’s true. You find people like this all over our country. Some of them, get lucky and find someone to believe in them while others spend their lives undervalued and underappreciated.

    The ones that make it are the real ‘slumdog millionaires’. I’m an MBA, I spend everyday being told to reach for the stars and that the sky’s the limit. To me, they’ve begun to sound like little more than tired platitudes. But your article got me thinking…I wonder if these kids even know the possibilities open to them.

    Now we know where Indian cinema should be headed. The very place it began, helping people dream!

    Thanks for the post!

  25. u can find these type of mobile reparing shop in every street of india.from this topic i understand that basic knowledge is necessary for anything……now days same type of cases also happen with digital cam and laptops.i m witness of my laptop case. hp service centre claim 10000 bucks for mother board but a street shop repair it in only 1500 bucks……
    i think that a real incredible india…

  26. @Ankur Gupta – can u send me the address of the place you got your iPod fixed at? I’m in a fix with mine too.

  27. Well, this was a nice experience for Mr. Kapoor. But i have lost my Nokia N72 because of a mobile repair shop, as the mechanic replaced the internal chip. From my mobile having a small charging problem, to it becoming dead was a miserable experience. But the mistake which i made, unlike Mr. Kapoor was that i left the mobile with the mechanic.
    But yes, undoubtedly, this article speaks a lot about the latent talent in an ordinary Indian citizen.

  28. This is the real scenario you can find every part of india…. Recently my car was getting start properly so I went to the showroom and authorized service centre but they were asking for 2 days to get it done… But when i stopped at the local garage in the city and he fixed it within 4 hours and at a 1/4th of the cost… that really amazing to see the local and may be uneducated people to see that they do a great job…. HATS OFF TO THESE GUYS….

  29. Very Interesting Article it is. I have been reading your blogs and your tweets on my blackberry and your ideas are the change we require to build India. We need to mobilise the youth of India to make the difference.

    I had a similar experience but not with phone but with a camera. I broke the lens of my Canon camera ($500) and canon told me that it will take Rs 8000 to fix it. I was in double mind whether to buy a new camera as by then the camera’s prices have really reduced in India. But I got it fixed in a small shop in Chandni Chownk, Delhi and they took only Rs 800 which is 10% of the cost Canon asked.

  30. Splendid story and as Shekharji has rightly remarked — if only we can harness this potential!

  31. Hi Shekar,
    Thanks for sharing this.
    I will be very happy to take his address and number if you are comfortable with
    I have Blackberry Pearl with same problem with roller ball.

    fortunately they changed it to optical sensor.
    Impressed with your story about this little entrepreneur.

    Warm Wishes,

  32. very true and common sight in India…..My share of experience is a with toshiba laptop broken power adapter jack, HCL guys told they need 3500 to open, side market repair guy done the job for me just for Rs.800/-. Also he did a quick cleaning service of the entire laptop. I never hestitaited to pay that money to him and got his number for future purposes. 🙂

  33. its a hilarious incident 🙂 with a pun in it…and very rightly portrayed by you sir,

    the people whom we neglect and try to over ride.. are actually the ones who have untouched talent in them which actually needs to be nourished and taken care off…

    sometimes, its a pity to see how such talent gets wasted…..

  34. the expirience has been experienced by most of us. but no one looked to it through the glance of bottom of the pyramid. maybe india is rising and blackberries are purchased but these small shop owners are making their fortune. this is the our core competency which we call jugaad. due to this only we are having growing service sector. we should look towards it in a more opportunistic manner.


  35. The way Mr. Kapur narrated the story was great. He brought in all the emotions when someone give a 30,000 cell phone to a local repair man. The main thing that I want to say is even many educated in our country may not perform this task which this guys had done.

  36. The way Mr. Kapur narrated the story was great. He brought in all the emotions when someone give a 30,000 cell phone to a local repair man. The main thing that I want to say is even many educated in our country may not perform this task which this guys had done.

    IMDR, Pune

  37. Not sure why everyone is going gaga over this. A broken roller ball was replaced. Not a a very difficult thing to do. Yup, the kids had figured out a market niche, but this is not unusual either. And somehow this is supposed to be a sign of India’s innate greatness? All that the story tells me is that – 1. the author was ignorant about how easy this is to do, especially with practice and 2. We, Indians, are desperate to see stories of indigenous creativity and hence will play up such relatively commonplace and not very remarkable events.

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