Fulfillness Final Finale
Copyright 2008 by Stephen Joseph
Writing his first non-fiction work, Stephen Joseph explores the theme of fulfillment by reducing his professional workload in order to undertake his newfound love – writing.
It has been ten long years since I started my first cyber café in 1998. Back then, the Internet was just taking off in India. Wanting to latch onto a sure bet way to make lots of money, I opened a small cyber shop in Bangalore with six public access systems. Computers were very costly in those days, costing upwards of Rs. 50,000 for a slow P3 machine. Getting a slow dial-up connection in the home was expensive and time-consuming: the deposit alone was Rs. 10,000 and it took anywhere from one to six months to get a Net connection. In those early days, the only Internet Service Provider throughout India was the very inefficient Department of Telecommunications (DOT). That is where my shop came in to fill the gap. I provided the public with access to the Internet that they would otherwise not have. In spite of the slow speeds of dialup service and the frequent drops in the line, business for a cyber café owner was excellent in those nascent days. When I opened Cyber Vision Number 1, I charged Rs. 60 per hour, which worked out to one rupee per minute per system. I was not only making bank, I was making Citibank!
With the business flourishing and the demand for Internet among Indians exploding exponentially, I opened Cyber Vision Number 2 in 2001. I kept five staff members to run the two shops as I shuttled back and forth between them. The business was simple: log in the customers as they come for browsing, take their printouts, do their scans and CD-writing, do some typing for them. Business was great!
In 2001, I got married. Mine was an arranged marriage like hundreds of marriages that take place every day all over India. I met my wife in person twice and I spoke to her on the phone about five or six times before we got married. I did not need to date her to know that she was going to be my life partner; all I needed were those two meetings with her. Two kids and eight years later, we are still going strong.
The demand for Internet access kept growing, so in 2004, I opened a third branch, Cyber Vision Number 3. I launched new services in all three shops such as computer servicing and repair, courier collection, computer sales, just about anything that would make me money. At the height of the public access Internet craze in India, I was running three shops and had a staff of ten.
Somewhere around the beginning of 2005, the public access Internet business started to fizzle. The rate per hour plummeted from Rs. 60 to Rs. 10. This was caused by a coalescence of three factors:
1) The government of India deregulated Internet by doing away with the DOT and allowed many private companies such as Airtel and Reliance to provide Internet services.
2) This led to a sharp decrease in price for Internet access due to increased competition, which in turn led to innovations such as broadband, DSL technology and wireless Internet. Speed also increased tremendously as the private companies purchased huge amounts of bandwidth from overseas or set up their own gateways. The Internet infrastructure solidified greatly in India.
3) The cost of computers and accessories plummeted. Whereas a 40 GB hard disk cost a whopping Rs. 10,000 in 2001, the price had dropped below Rs. 2,000 for a 160 GB hard disk by 2005. Whereas my cost of providing Internet access to the public was Rs. 1,000 per machine per month in 2001, it had dropped to Rs. 2,000 per month for unlimited bandwidth by 2005. Due to this dramatic drop in computer prices and cost of bandwidth, more cyber cafes opened up all over Bangalore. On the small street where I had CV1, for example, along came five more browsing centers. More people also began to purchase computers for home use due to the lower prices. Everyone who got a computer in the house also immediately got a Net connection.
At the same time that more cyber cafes opened up, the private companies got very aggressive by offering low-cost Internet access in the home. I saw the writing on the wall long before the Internet bubble burst. One of the first hints I got about the tectonic shift from public access to home access was when some of my old customers stopped coming to my Internet center. I thought they were going to some other cyber café, but they told me that they had taken Net connection in their home or had Net access in their office.
Along with three shops came three sets of expenses. And headaches. Computers, being electronic items, were prone to break down and get infected with viruses. It became increasingly difficult to find and keep English-speaking staff and to pay them well as the call centers beckoned them with offers they could not refuse. My income started to plummet as I was competing not only with numerous other cyber cafes, but also with the private companies that offered Net connection in the home and office at greatly reduced prices. Unbelievably at the same time that my income started to go down, the shop owners of all three shops demanded more rent and the cost of electricity also increased.
By the end of 2007, I decided to wind down CV3. I had had enough of staff problems, maintenance problems, the increased time it took to travel between the three braches, and the systems frequently needing repair. On December 31, 2007, when everyone else was out celebrating New Years Eve, I was vacating the shop. Four months later, I vacated CV1. I kept only CV2, which was running somewhat decently because of the large floating population in that area.
But there were other personal reasons of fulfillment why I closed two of my three shops. One was that I wanted to spend more time with my children; my five year old had started first standard and my three year old was in LKG. My children were growing up so fast and I wanted to be with them more. I did not want to see my children all grown up; rather I wanted to see my children growing up.
The most important reason I closed two shops was the “forty year itch.” I had crossed the fortieth year of my life and I felt I had accomplished little. When I turned forty, I looked at myself and saw a life unfulfilled. I was a nobody in a country of more than a billion people. I was a two-time loser in business. No one knew my name and no one wanted to know my name.
I was just an average person. I made average marks in school and college and I never stood out in anything. Up until this point in my forty years, the only thing I knew was computers. In fact, my visiting card reads that I am a ‘Computer Specialist.” All I have known my entire life revolved around motherboards, RAM, BIOS, TCP/IP, networking, and assembling, buying, selling and repairing computers.
But I wanted to do something else that I had never tried before…
I wanted to write. I wanted to be known as a writer. The only thing I knew about writing was typing, which I was pretty good at. In early 2008, I started writing. Having never written anything in my life, I struggled to write. Words would not come to me. I kept repeating things. Ideas were jumbled and there was no semblance of sentence structure. I started to write a novel entitled, “Confessions of an Average Indian Housewife” and I entered part of it in a writing contest held on an Indian bookstore website. When I found out that I was not short-listed, I was not surprised. I just decided to try harder. That rejection made me want to write more and even better. I started to use my imagination. I started to become creative. I entered writing contest after writing contest that I found on the Web. My wife thinks I am crazy and wasting my time and hard-earned money, but something from deep within urges me to write. I can’t explain it. It’s like I’m obsessed with writing. I don’t know, maybe I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or something. Sometimes I write flash fiction, sometimes it is a short story. I’ve even written a (very bad) poem, haikus and a complete story in less than fifty words.
At this milestone in my life, I no longer want to be known as a ‘Computer Specialist.’ No, I want to be known as a ‘Good Father.’ I also want to leave my small mark in a big world by being known as an ‘Indian Writer’ or even better yet, an ‘Indian Short Story Teller.’ I don’t crave fame or fortune, but I confess I do crave a little attention. The finale of my fulfillment will come in knowing that I am ‘Somebody’ in a country as big as India. Not ‘Nobody’ but ‘Somebody.’ And so I continue to put pen to paper, and feed words to MS Word, if nothing else than to prove my wife wrong…
Stephen Joseph is a computer hardware
engineer running his own Internet and computer sales and service
center in Bangalore. He is married and the father of a six-year-old
daughter and a four-year-old daughter.
in the subject line of the message.)