Everything changed, overnight, for the common person, as the pandemic came alive. Everything we knew about LIFE, took a U-turn, literally!
Those who spent hours travelling by local train to reach office and enjoy that first peaceful cup of tea at their desk, before burrowing in work, suddenly had to make that tea for themselves, and deal with wrestling children (schools took a while to catch up), while they struggled to find the mute button on yet another unending “essential” work call, when WFH kickstarted.
Those who were used to going to the market to hand-bruise the freshest, plumpest tomatoes from the vendors’ tokri (basket) as they picked their kilo, now had to contend with ordering online, and shaking their head to their neighbours, going “it’s not the same quality anymore”.
There were the zoom antakshari nights and bhajan sandhyas (evenings). Housie parties, ludo mania, virtual chess – became the biggest fad – for at-home entertainment. Commiserations and congratulations – they were all offered, with equal gusto, online. Movie theatres moved indoors (into our homes), with projectors and smart screens, or at least a chromecast, and failing all else – that in-hand, trusty mobile phone was made the newest cinema screen.
All senior citizens learnt to operate popular connectivity apps. And toddlers became small-screen experts (thanks to the voice commands!).
And then school started online. Teachers now had a new set of problems – children would insist on eating when in front of a device (new habits all around – the mobile phone was the new airplane, after all), or bring their current favorite toy to class, or they (the teachers) would be competing with the fascination of backgrounds, filters, or even just an in-home “I’m going to the market” call! Teachers accustomed to writing on black/white boards had to learn the art of making digital presentations, almost overnight; teachers accustomed to red pen markings had to figure how to do assessments online.
A lot of learning, unlearning and ‘new learnings’ happened, within few weeks.
But of course, all this accounts for probably 50% of India (basis Statista report from 2020), the population with access to the Internet.
What about the other 50%? Do the children, that form a sizable volume of this population, not deserve to learn? Is entertainment that class-ist, that it will only come into the hands of those with the internet, while those without it, only get to watch re-runs on television, when they have electricity? Agreed, while for a large part of the working population from this set, their work always was, and continues to be, out in the fields, and that remained unchanged, pandemic or not, didn’t all of them also deserve the ancillaries of education, entertainment, and the “lots more” the internet had to offer?
Let’s take the specific example of Daluwala Majbata, a village that’s a mere 74 kms (by road) from Uttarakhand’s state capital, Dehradun. A small, yet relatively prosperous community, by it’s own admission. “Yahan toh kya hai didi, sab ya to kheti baadi karte hain, ya yeh jo SIDCUL hai, wahan kisi factory mein kaam karte hain. Ab covid ho, na ho, dono cheezen ruki kahan. Toh kaam chalta hai, paisa aata hai. Sab waise toh sukhi hain, khane ko roti-sabzi mil jaati hai, pehen ne ko kapde, aur kya chahiye.”
(“Everyone here either works in the field, or in some factory in SIDCUL – neither of which stopped during the pandemic. Neither work, nor income stopped, so everyone’s reasonably content – everyone gets food to eat, clothes to wear, what else does anyone need.”)
“Bhaiya, waise… mera mobile kyun nahi chal raha?” “Arrey didi, mobile toh kaise chalega. Jio walon ne abhi toh tower lagaya hai – kahin kahin aa jaata hai network, par zyada nahi aata – hum khayi mein hain na, isiliye kehete hain. Aapka toh pakdega nahi, Jio hota toh fir bhi shayad uss kone mein pakad leta.”
(“By the way, why isn’t my mobile working?” “How will your mobile work – the Jio team has recently installed a tower, but you get network only in some patches – we’re in a valley, that’s why they say we don’t get network. Yours definitely won’t get signal – if you had Jio, you may have, perhaps, gotten it in some patches.”)
“Aur aapka wifi?” (Laughing) “Ab didi kya batayein. Dekhiye, aaj taar phir se kat gayi hai. Yeh toh hota rehta hai. Kabhi taar kat ti hai, toh kabhi bijli nahi hoti aur server off ho jaata hai. Kaise chalega yeh wifi?”
(“And what about your wifi?” “What do I tell you. The wire got cut again today – and that’s a fairly common occurrence. Sometimes the wire breaks, sometimes the server goes off because of a power cut. How will this wifi ever work?”)
“Accha, toh bacche padhte toh hai na?” “Haan didi, jab school chalu thi, sab ke sab jaate the. Humare gaon se toh logon ne BTech-MTech tak ki padhai ki hai! Par ab school online ho gayi – toh ek saal se nahi ja rahe. Jab network chal jaata hai, baithte hain class mein. Par network chale tab toh…”
(“So tell me, the children here study, right?” “Yes, when (physical) schools were on, the kids would all go study. Our village has people who’ve studied right up to BTech and MTech! But now all their schools are online, so they haven’t been able to attend regularly for the last year. Whenever there’s network, they attend class – but that’s only when the network works…”)
“Network chale tab toh” (“when the network will work…”) is a refrain, perhaps rephrased, but commonly heard across the length and breadth of the country. Data tells us that while large tracts of the country have now been successfully “lit up” with so-called – network connectivity – the reality is that further outside a city you go, the lower the possibility of connectivity. Sadayankuppam, a village that’s 15 kilometers from Chennai, or Behta, a mere 19 kilometers from Lucknow, are merely two examples, of such poor network zones.
But that’s exactly where we, as SugarBox Networks, come in. From (relatively) distant villages like Daluwala Majbata, to closer-by areas like Behta, right down to underserved areas within cities – our hyperlocal deployments ensure that our consumers, get access to digital services, regardless of network or internet availability.
So, going back to that conversation with Pawan Singh ji in Daluwala Majbata:
“Didi, waise, aap galat din pe aayi aapka yeh install test karne ke liye. Aaj toh bijli nahi hai – bas UPS pe chalu kiya hai yeh, par who tar bhi toh katti hui hai na, toh kuch bhi nahi chalega.” “Pakka, bhaiya?” “Haan, toh kaise chalega? Woh signal aayega aapka wifi wala UPS ke kaaran, par kuch chalega kahan?” “Toh, try karke dekhen? Aap, aaphi ke mobile mein humara SugarBox app open kijiye na please, aur humare SugarBox wifi se connect kijiye.”
“Yeh toh humne download kiya hai, yeh toh khulega, par koi movie vagerah kahan chalegi…” “Koi bhi movie chuniye, aur “play” button dabaiye – try karte hain.” “Arrey, yeh toh chal gayi! Arrey yeh bhi chali! Yeh toh sab chal rahi hain! Pushpa, sunti ho! Tumhari picture sab chalengi! Didi, ab bas, bacche bhi issipe padh sakein toh…”
‘Didi’ merely smiled, in response.
(“But – you’ve picked the wrong day to come here and test your installation. There’s no electricity today – just this UPS that’s powering a few things. And that wire is cut – so there’s no internet.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, how will your server work? The UPS will ensure that you get your wifi signal, but how will anything work?” “So, let’s maybe try? Let’s use your mobile phone – will you please open up our SugarBox app – while being connected to SugarBox wifi.”
“This app is something I’ve downloaded – I’m sure it’ll open, but nothing will work!” “Okay, go ahead and pick any movie – and click the “play” button – let’s try it!” “This worked! And this too! This is all working! Pushpa, your movies are all working! Didi, if only our kids could study using this…”)
No connectivity to a digital platform. Unreliable electricity. But, yet the possibility of living through a-new experience, backed by proprietary technology. We are SugarBox Networks.
A team that’s curating experiences to make internet accessible, in the remotest of corners, affordably. Because this is how we intend to change lives and connect our country. And very soon be the solution for global under-connectivity, as well.
We are on a mission to transform digital experiences – everywhere – with one SugarBox server at a time.
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