Once a gate­way to the fu­ture, cy­ber cafes start fad­ing into obliv­ion

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - HT Navi Mumbai Live - - FRONT PAGE - Manoj Sharma manoj.sharma@hin­dus­tan­times.com

Aamir Khurso sits at the front desk of his cy­ber café, watch­ing the rain. On the wall be­hind him is a black and white print­out ask­ing cus­tomers to present their ID cards. There aren’t too many cus­tomers, just a few young­sters peer­ing into bulky, old CRT mon­i­tors in­side small white cu­bi­cles. A musty smell per­vades the place.

“Few peo­ple come here. I won­der if it’s time to shut down this place,” says the 37-year-old owner of Fire­fox In­ter­net Cafe in east Delhi. “A decade ago, there used to be a wait­ing pe­riod to use the in­ter­net.”

Cy­ber cafes sym­bol­ised In­dia’s nascent in­ter­net rev­o­lu­tion and in­tro­duced a gen­er­a­tion to the World Wide Web. The first one, named sim­ply Cy­berCafe, opened at Mum­bai’s Leela ho­tel in 1996, a year af­ter VSNL brought the in­ter­net to In­dia. Soon af­ter, Delhi got its first, Cy­ber Club, at the ITC Mau­rya ho­tel. Both no longer ex­ist.

By 2005, In­dia had 200,000 Net cafes. That num­ber is now down to 72,000, ac­cord­ing to the Cy­ber Café As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia.

This year marks 20 years of the ad­vent of the cy­ber café in In­dia, and their num­bers are fast dwin­dling — the Cap­i­tal has 2,500 of them from 8,000 in 2008.

Go­ing back to the sum­mer of 2000 when he started out, Khurso says, “I was 22 and wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. It was fash­ion­able then to open cy­ber cafes. They were the start-ups of those days. We were the first to spread dig­i­tal lit­er­acy, but now we are out of work.”

With grow­ing in­ter­net ac­cess at home and work, cy­ber café own­ers like Khurso now of­fer on­line util­ity ser­vices — air and rail tick­et­ing, money trans­fer, on­line ap­pli­ca­tions, scan­ning and print­outs — to earn a liv­ing.

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