A Village BPO?

To the 500 families living in Maravan Mangalam, a hamlet near Kalayarkoil in Sivagangai district, internet is not a fancy. It is their lifeline. Deprived of a government dispensary, Internet grants them access to medical consultation through internet. The initiative came from the people, the village panchayat, to be precise. They are not familiar with the expression telemedicine, but nevertheless, they know that they can reach out to the ‘computer doctor’ as and when they need.

Poongothai is not fortunate enough to attend college after her Plus Two as her father is a landless farmer. But now, every morning, she is rushing to her office, a BPO, in her village Kizhanur in Thiruvallur district. She, along with 15 others, is processing legal documents of a US firm, for a salary of Rs 2000 per month. Yes, it is paltry. But Poongothai takes pride that she is helping her family, “like a man.” She sounds confident and happy, a digital bliss. Village BPOs have come to stay. A $170 million US corporate, Lason Inc, is spearheading the initiative. As an end-to-end outsourcing company it offers franchise on the terms that the franchisee has to provide the real estate, while Lason will invest in the hardware and training.

About 15 women assemble every evening in a school at Kottivakkam, a suburb of Chennai, to learn computer skills. A bunch of youngsters, some of them are from giant software corporations, teach them Open Office and MS Office. The woman, all from a self-help group, are keen to pick up the skills as they believe it would help them in managing their correspondence and accounts.

Digital divide would become a thing of the past soon. The information super highway is reaching out downstream and, more importantly, it is changing life. At last, India has awakened to the 21st century.

Digital technology is fast changing the way we look, work, speak, read, write, buy and sell. Wearing a collarless rum red slack to office does not raise eyebrows anymore. The boss would have seen that the previous night on television. ‘Boys’, hardly 23, sleep at home in the forenoon and fathers do not scorn as they know that he has returned after a strenuous night at the BPO. Girls leave for work at 10 in the night and mothers don’t grumble because they know she is going not to party but to a call centre.

These days you hardly see a gaudily painted tin hoarding in any city. Digitally-printed acrylic sheets have taken their place. Advertisements seduce you to walk into ‘real digital experience’ at theatres. Mamis enquire about the snowfall at Philadelphia with their son through Yahoo! chat. And non-resident Tamils write exciting reviews of Anniyan in their blogs on the day after it is released. Of course, train tickets are delivered at home.

But the language is the causality. My daughter sends a message, “v r @ ECR. r u comg. food’s gr8 here,” and claims it is English. Maybe. As Su-Du-Ko has replaced the crossword, one day, we may have poems written in this alpha numerical language and, who knows, may even win Booker. Life, after all, is stranger than Sci-fi.

                                                                                                             Sunday  Express July 17 2005

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