Internet has become one of the basic needs today, especially for city-dwellers; whether professionals or students. It has penetrated so much into our lives that it often makes us wonder how life would be without its presence.
This makes me recall the time when I was introduced to the internet for the first time ever or when I took baby steps into this medium, which was called revolutionary back then. It makes me feel strange to even imagine the time when I was able to live without the internet!
During the start of the new millennium (in the year 2000) I was an addict of colas. It is this addiction that played a major role in me getting introduced to this medium.
Coca-Cola had come up with a scheme then of offering free internet surfing for 30 minutes with every glass of the soft drink. They provided a card that could be exchanged at any of the cyber cafes listed by them for half an hour of net surfing.
When the person at the counter gave me and my friends the card when we bought Coca-Cola for the first time after the scheme was launched, we were surprised. When he explained to us about the internet, I was confused. What is internet? What is a cyber café? I could hardly understand any of it but still decided to go ahead since it was for free and involved sitting in front of the computer.
The cyber café closest to my house was located in a crammed place near Dadar railway station. It appeared like a shady office space but the person running it was kind enough to explain to us what exactly internet is and what all can we do with it. But it took us some time to even get used to handling the ‘mouse,’ since we hadn’t learnt Windows in school.
We soon came to know about something called an e-mail address and that it’s a different way of sending a letter, since the word ‘digital’ hadn’t become common then. It didn’t take me long to keep ‘iamthebest’ as my first e-mail ID; based on one of my favourite songs from Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000). [Few months later, my next e-mail ID included the words ‘raj_aryan’ when Mohabbatein (2000) became my next favourite film.]
By the way, kids from today’s era won’t know that we used to connect to the net through a device called modem. And it used to make strange sounds before connecting.
Funnily, we opened an e-mail ID but we had nobody to whom we can send e-mails. So, we started sending mails to each other.
In one of my next visits to the café, someone else was sitting on the computer I always used. The owner asked me to take the next PC. But I opposed saying I have always accessed my mails from this PC, so how can I check them from another machine? That’s how I came to know that e-mails can be accessed from any computer in the world and that’s why it’s called the World Wide Web (www).
In today’s times, it’s obvious that if we send an e-mail to someone, it gets saved in the address book automatically. But what wasn’t the case then. We actually wrote down e-mail IDs of people in a diary! We didn’t know we can copy-paste the e-mail ID of a person from his or her previous mail.
It felt like a sense of achievement to surf news from the computer. The two most common websites I used to visit were Cricinfo.com and IndiaFM.com [which later became BollywoodHungama.com].
I felt more triumphant when I could open and load pictures of film stars or cricketers. The speed to open one picture back then was the same to download a 20 or 30 MB videos today.
Internet soon became our latest sensation and we started visiting cyber cafes on every weekend; this time by paying. We started visiting a different and more sophisticated café at Gokhale Road (North), Dadar where you could also order food.
Slowly, we were introduced to the idea of chat rooms [In MSN, followed by Yahoo]. And this made us familiar with the concept of making friends online, even in far distant countries. It took us just few weeks to become pros at using the internet.
There was a sense of pride to have become ‘experts’ in this new medium much before our other friends in the building, relatives and a large majority of the Indian population.
But my pride was demolished either in the same year or the next when I noticed that this famous paan wala at Breach Candy with the name of the shop as ‘Muchhad Panwala’ was having his own official website since 1998!
And we were feeling on top of the world by just having an e-mail ID!
P.S – Just last month, the paan wala was arrested in a drug-related case, but that’s a different story.