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Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf's excitement knew no bounds when he laid his hands on the 'poor man's iPad'. But the supposedly 'revolutionary' and 'game-changing' piece of technology that sells at Rs 2,500 a piece went kaput in 30 minutes flat. Yes, we are talking about the Aakash Tablet PC.
Firdaus pours his heart out.
When I first saw an iPad in my friend's hand I was very impressed. He told me it would bring a revolution in the digital world and soon people will dump their keyboards and move to touch screens.
The friend went on to say: If you don't adapt to it you will feel like a dinosaur.
His prophecy was frightening. I was turning 40 and didn't want to become outdated so soon. But the cost of an iPad was way beyond my reach: Steve Jobs' magical, sophisticated, smooth-running slate would set me back by Rs 30,000, minimum.
Disappointed, I wished that some day the iPad's cost would come down to affordable levels. Just like the drop in the prices of LCD and LED TVs. I decided to wait till such a moment dawns.
But then Steve Jobs (may his soul rest in peace) works only for the rich. He was always an innovator for rich people, wasn't he?
He never thought about lesser mortals like us. The iPad 2 (Note: Aakash's souped up avatar UbiSlate 7+ is on the way as you read this) launched later was even more expensive with added bells and whistles.
However, not everybody thinks about the rich. Technology, I thought, is a great leveller. Just when I was lost in my own thoughts about Steve Jobs's discrimination for the have-nots of this world and how only the rich were enjoying the (so-called) benefits of digital revolution and how lesser mortals like me were completely knocked out of the digital race, came my Eureka moment.
India's IT minister Kapil Sibal announced the launch of the Aakash tablet for Rs 2,500 with much fanfare. The next moment I was telling myself: This is India's answer to the Apple iPad. Here comes the great digital leveller.
The Aakash Tablet was the Poor Man's iPad, I comforted my angst and wondered aloud if I had coined a metaphor that would awaken the masses to the joys of digital age.
To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement.
Alas I could not buy it off the shelf. To enjoy Aakash I would have to wait for a couple of months in a virtual queue (remember the real queues one filed into to buy subsidised foodgrains and kerosene at ration shops?).
To buy an Aakash Tablet I had to register on their website. The company was taking pre-booking orders. You had to depend on your luck and hope to get the slate in the first slot.
Never the one to be bogged by chances of luck, I did register immediately with two of my friends hoping desperately to get the poor man's iPad in my hands.
At Rs 2,500, without doubt, the demand far outstripped the supply for Aakash. As reports went viral and more people applied, my luck and my waiting time -- like all those others waiting in queue -- were my only companions.
Flashback: I remembered those never-ending queues, which I as a 10-year-old would be a part of, at the local ration shop to buy subsidised wheat and kerosene. Many times I had to go disappointed because there would be no wheat or kerosene (those were the days of scarcity).
30 years later I was yet again waiting in queue. Not that backbreaking queue at the ration shop but a virtual one that would decide if I would or would not be the proud owner of the marvel that was Aakash. The thought of not getting it unsettled my mind. However, I knew I would have to be patient and wait my turn.
As luck would have it my turn did not come. My friends though, who I had applied with, figured in the list of Aakash-haves. Eureka, they said, when Aakash was delivered to them in office.
I was dejected. I lost the opportunity to own Aakash. I was unlucky in this online ration queue.
Seeing me forlorn, my friend proffered bravely (was he pitying poor me?), "Firdaus, you can take my Aakash since I already have an iPad2. I just bought it for my daughter. My child can wait for some more time. I will order another one for her when it opens for booking again."
I was overjoyed. I touched Aakash.
Flashback again: I remembered those times at the ration shop when I would reach the baniya (grocer) after an hour or two in the line and get my share of subsidised wheat and kerosene. Those behind me had still some hard work to do before they could get their fill.
Reality check: I switched on Aakash. It was working fine. Not as smooth as iPad 2 but then at Rs 2,500 I wasn't expecting the moon.
However, I had not bargained for my happiness not even lasting 30 minutes.
When I tried to enable Wi-Fi Aakash conked off.
It refuses to come to life again. For the last forty-eight hours I have been trying my best with generous help from my computer engineer friends to restart it.
Aakash has refused to budge.
The icing on the Froyo cake (Aakash runs on Android 2.2): I have been trying to call the help line numbers mentioned in the booklet that is part of the Aakash bundle. I just cannot get through. Why? Those numbers don't exist (Please try, 1 800 180 2180 and a sweet voice says, 'Sorry, your call cannot be processed').
I requested my doubly lucky friend (firstly because he got Aakash and secondly I bought his defective piece) -- the original owner of Aakash -- to send an e-mail complaint. He too failed to elicit any response.
Now, after three days I have realised I have got a piece of junk and it is of no use. I am poorer by Rs 2,700 (Rs 2,500 for buying the revolutionary product and Rs 200 on account of delivery charges) for daring to buy 'the poor man's iPad'.
After my experience I shudder to think about the fate of millions of students across India to whom the government plans to sell Aakash by subsidising it further to Rs 1,500. No doubt the government's intention is noble: It wants to empower students by enjoying the fruit of technology in this digitally competitive world. What if their Aakash moment turns out to be -- as a colleague cleverly punned -- an Ah Kaash (if only I had not bought it) moment!
At the time of writing this piece 14 lakh (1.4 million) Indians had already ordered Aakash online. I don't know how these million units of Aakash would perform but mine went kaput in 30 minutes and is now beyond repair.
As a child, I used to ask my grandfather, why do we need to stand in front of the ration shop in long queues to buy wheat when many others bought it from the open shops.
He told me a very nice story. "We are poor," he had said, "and we should be thankful that the Indian government is at least providing subsidised food to us. Therefore we can afford to eat."
My father a union leader countered him. "The wheat that we eat from ration shops is meant for horses in America. Since those horses don't eat it the American government dumps it on India's poor."
While I didn't buy a subsidised Aakash I can only sincerely wish that mine is a one-off instance and all those students going for government-subsidised Aakash have a smooth ride once they get the device in their hands.
Having said that here's my advice: (excuse me the scream but) DON'T BUY AKASH TABLET. Period.