Shai and I are in Chennai, a trip that has become something of an annual year-end pilgrimage the past few years. It's a sleepy little hamlet, I know, but I have to say I love it here. The scent of jasmine on the air, the comical S. Indian accents (in a different way from N. Indian accents), the delicious food, and the general reluctance to get into shouting matches with nine out of ten souls who cross your path. Very unlike our place of residence, indeed.
As if that weren't enough to rekindle my faith in humanity, yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening meeting with guys from Novatium, one of the offshoots from IIT Madras professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala's TeNeT group, and they took me to some sites where they've implemented a pilot program that hooks lower middle class families up with a network-centric PC and web access for Rs.399 per month. I'm not a "web can save the world" guy, but without "going native on the story" I have to admit that I was pretty impressed with the product/application. The funniest part was watching these little girls in frocks and plaits go to Google to find fun things to do on the web. The ingenuity that they've developed in their search strings was amazing. For instance, the ten-year-old told me her favorite thing to do on the PC was to play a game she called "Mario" (an offshoot of Super Mario Bros, I assume), so I asked her how she found out about it. She told me that they'd heard about the game from friends, and in the meantime her 13-year-old sister had fired up Google and typed "to play the game of Mario" in the search window. Not just Mario, not the full name of the game, but the syntax of the sentence likely to appear on the site that lets you play the game online. Brilliant!
Of course, they also used the machine for school and stuff.