Below is a VOA News television piece I produced on new mobile phone games that have been designed to educate poor, rural Indians.
The piece also explores how mobile games are an effective way to broach taboo topics in India like SEX. Most states across India ban sex education in schools. My Indian friends often joke that, as far as they know, “no one has sex in India. Babies fall from the sky.”
Mobile games candy-coat the information so that kids can actually learn about the "birds and the bees." They've got to learn safe sexual practices somewhere, no?
The secret to lucrative freelancing is being able to take a story and repurpose it for different outlets. You can add touches of color and supplemental interviews, but ultimately draw from the same bulk of work.
That said I am working on a supplemental print piece on mobile phone education for an India publication called The Caravan.
Below is the initial draft I turned into The Caravan editors about India’s emerging “mobile phone movement.” None of it is usable in the literary magazine. Why? I had incorrectly written for a foreign audience. The Caravan readership is an intelligent and clued-in Indian audience.
All of my American friends who happen to read the piece below may actually learn something new about India’s intricate cell phone culture.... Not so much for my Indian friends who already live and breathe it. Mobile phone penetration is OLD news for them. I need something fresh and forward looking.
I am going in a completely different direction with my second draft, thanks to the urging of really qualified editors.
The fact is, in India, mobile phone penetration is mass multiplying faster than rats in heat. Equipping poor villagers with quality educational software for the mobiles may be just the ticket to boosting India’s literacy and global influence. Could mobile phone education be India’s secret weapon as they move to dominate the global playing field? This print exploration should ideally hit newstands this month.
Here is the original draft (discussed above). Enjoy these word-chunks scooped up fresh from the cutting room floor....
INDIA'S MOBILE PHONE MOVEMENT, THE LOST DRAFT
“One picture, Madame?” Before I can respond, I’m sandwiched in by 20 of my “new best friends.” Rows of burly hands grasping mobiles erupt from every angle, taking snap-after-snap-after-snap. And I just I stand there – frozen - like some sort of inebriated Santa Clause.
The Bombay heat had turned my hair into a bad science experiment and my pit-stains were far from vogue. There was no Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction – I checked. What on earth, then, was the reason for Princess Diana paparazzi treatment?
A month later, I got my answer while browsing through an Indian friend’s mobile phone. His photo album had more white women in it than an episode of Desperate Housewives. After a relatively painless interrogation session, my friend admitted that he and his pals collected mobile photos of white girls (the fairer, the better). They then traded the snaps via their mobile network much like American’s do baseball cards.
I quickly deleted my photo from the bunch wanting no part in the snap-shot seduction. “Too late, firanghi,” my Indian pal joked. It was then that I realized just how deeply India had penetrated the mobile playing field -or should I say mobile player’s field. My image belonged to a rapidly growing network of the estimated 350 million cell phone users in India.
This number is growing rapidly. In most villages, it’s not uncommon to see gaggles of women yapping on their mobiles while milking a cow or pacing a corn field. Nineteen-year-old Sony Sharma lives in the tight-knit Malakpur Village in Uttar Pradesh. At sunrise, Sony completes her morning chores. She feeds the water buffaloes, milks a crew of moody cows and boils water for chai—her mobile phone strapped tightly to her hip like a newborn infant. A quick glance to Sony’s left and you see the perfect portrait of modernity – three steel cell phone towers loom over a still stretch of the graying Ganges.
“The towers came last year,” says Sony who adds she is proud to be one of the 30,000 villages across India which is now wired in. Sony estimates about half of the people in her village now have phones. India’s economy may be at a stand-still, but the cell phone companies are profiting. It is new rural phone owners like Sony – with an earning power of less than four thousand rupees monthly - who make up India’s seven million new mobile subscribers each month.
The olive-skinned teenager flashes her Nokia 1600 phone, a hunk of circuitry which has quickly turned her into the village DJ. By night, the tiny sounds of “Oh when the Saints Go Marching In” or “Jai Ho” echoes off endless rows of sugarcane.
Sony and her fellow villagers have quickly become savvy to the tricks of the mobile trade. Incoming and missed calls are completely free in India. That’s why, says Sony, she prefers to regularly nudge her fellow villagers with a “missed calls in the morning.” “They are a type of no-urgent hi, how are you,” Sony says speaking of this newly emerging language. It can also be used to tell someone “you have come to a place,” Sony adds.
At times this missed call series can expand to a perpetual game of “tag – you’re it.” Claire Snell-Rodd is an American Fulbright Scholar and PhD Candidate at the University of Virginia currently studying attitudes toward health in New Delhi's Okhla slum. Snell-Rodd says many slum dwellers, unable to afford the full cost of a 10 rupee conversation, will blow their family members or friends a type of missed call kiss. Later, when the two respective parties bump into each other, the person who last called has the upper hand. “They can feel free to question the other party for never returning their calls,” Snell-Rodd confides. This face-saving game continues until one party finally stomachs the cost of a call.