More Than Mobile
A few mornings a week, I am awakened by a call on my mobile phone. The offer ranges from a new credit card to more life insurance to banking services, and I usually hang up once I hear stylish, sing-songy, pre-recorded Hindi.
From left, Shohinee Ghosh, 25, Nitin Mahajan, 26, and Rahul Sharma, 26, use mobiles at Cafe Coffee Day in New Delhi. (Photos by Nitin Mukul) |
During this short time in India, my phone here has morphed into much more than its counterpart in the States. And there's more to it than the fact that I call it a "mobile," not a cell phone.
To invite people to a birthday party for Nitin (yes, he arrived on Wednesday, hence the delay in blogging) this past weekend, I text-messaged them. He also received more text messages wishing him "many happy returns of the day" (that's a taste of Indian English for you) than phone calls. Oh, and forgive me for using the term "text message"; here, it's "SMSing," an acronym-cum-verb that stands for "short message service."
I've become addicted to this television program, "Nach Baliye" -- imagine a Bollywood dance version of "American Idol" -- and to vote for my favorite couple, I punch 646 on my mobile phone and type in their special code.
Rahul Sharma, 26, shows off his mobile at Café Coffee Day in New Delhi.
My mobile's address book came with phone numbers for food delivery (the cuisine of "pizza" gets its own entry), astrologers, a car helpline, cricket scores, doctors, florists, breaking news and train schedules. Many coffee shops have kiosks where you can charge your mobile. You can pay your bills via mobile.
The most low-tech-looking street vendors -- people who usually peddle newspapers and paan, a betel leaf wrapped around a mixture of pastes and spices and sometimes tobacco -- now sell pre-paid SIM cards. Rare has become the surface, from bench to bus to billboard, that is not covered by an advertisement for a mobile company.
The growth has been explosive. In 2001 there were 5,479 registered mobile lines in India. Now there are 69,074 -- more than 12 times as many in just four years.
Shohinee Ghosh, 25, sends an SMS at Café Coffee Day in New Delhi. The billboard boasts the services of mobile service provider AirTel.
But according to at least one telecommunications analyst, India still has a way to go before catching up to fellow Asian nations.
"When you compare India with other markets, it's behind," said Farid Yunas, a Malaysia-based wireless and mobile analyst for the Yankee Group. "Outside the cities, there isn't much mobile penetration. In India, mobile penetration is still in single digits." (Taiwan is over 100 percent, by comparison.)
Which led me to wonder how far behind the States might be. It's about 50 percent, by one estimate.
Penetration aside, I still feel like an idiot compared to urban dwellers here. For Nitin's invitation, I could not figure out how to get a zero into the message (the "0" key is the space bar on my phone) so I asked people to arrive at 8:31 p.m.
I am also a slowpoke SMS-er. The other day, while trying to let my cousin Pinku know "we are close" I found myself on his front porch before I could send the message ... er ... SMS.
And this afternoon, as we drove through Delhi with Nitin's uncle Gega, he kept trying to turn off what he thought was a loud Bollywood song on the radio. Oddly enough, it just kept playing.
Finally, Nitin noticed the sound coming from Gega's pants, not the car speakers. Apparently, our cousin had installed it on Gega's mobile, unbeknownst to him and unrecognizable as a ring tone to us Americans in the car.
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