Cybercafes a vital link for millions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 September, 2004, 12:00am

Sitting in the internet cafe in suburban New Delhi, Tarun Gupta scans a site in search of a husband for his younger sister.

'I am 25, a Hindu male living in Tamil Nadu. I am an engineer. I am tall with a wheatish complexion and slim. I am an easy going person, practical and jovial,' says one entry. Mr Gupta jots down the engineer's details in a notebook.

'My father died two years back and, as the eldest son in the family, it's my responsibility to find a suitable boy for Anjali,' he said.

'It's cheaper than going through marriage brokers and faster than word of mouth.'

Cybercafes in western countries are passe. London's The Daily Telegraph has already written the obituary 'Ye Olde Internet Cafe', tracing the concept's demise from trend-setting hot houses to relics patronised only by the urban poor.

The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the opening of the world's first cybercafe - Cafe Cyberia - in London's West End in September 1994.

But in a country like India where millions can only dream of buying their own PC, internet cafes are as integral a part of a city's landscape as telephone booths or traffic lights.

India has an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 cafes. Software giant Satyam Infoway alone has opened 2,000 cybercafes in three years.

'It's a big thing with anyone who speaks English,' said David Appasamy, chief communications manager at Satyam.

'Everyone wants to chat on-line, get into e-mail and surf the Net to show they're clued in.'

Some internet cafes have taken to showing porn to local youths for a small charge to drum up business and beat the opposition.