On the gaming highway

BY Radhika sachdev| IN Digital Media | 14/06/2012
Kids from poor neighbourhoods are getting hooked on gaming software in cyber cafes,
At ten sharp, Karan Chowdhary (10 years), a class second student of Rockstar Public school in Sector 27, NOIDA takes his allotted desk at Addi Cyber Café run by Umesh Chauhan.
A regular at the neighbourhood café, today Karan also has his four-year-old brother in tow.
As the meter begins to roll – Chauhan charges Rs 10/hour to the boy – Karan expertly manoeuvres the mouse to launch his favourite software – GTA White City – a simple motoring game in flash that’s available for free-download from gaming sites.
Bhaiyaa, ither kheecho (pull, here brother)” implores the toddler, who within minutes of watching his brother at play is ready to navigate the mouse during the adrenaline-pumping virtual drive.     
The boy’ father is a fresh fruit hawker in Sector 17, Indira market. The boys bid their time and after running a few errands for the family are able to pick the courage to wrest a tenner from their mother, enough to blow it at the surreal, darkened environment of the neighbourhood café (a far cry from a plush gaming parlour in the suburbs) for an hour of unadulterated fun, away from the nagging ways and prying eyes of their elders.
This being a time when the schools are shut for the long summer break, nearly half of Umesh Chauhan’s customers comprise of kids of Karan’s age. When he took stock of the initial rush, he quickly announced a new price band for the minors – Rs 10/hour, against the standard Rs 15/hour for adult browsers. 
“Business is booming,” smiles Chauhan, who doesn’t appear to be concerned about their age. “They are only interested in motoring games. I’ve downloaded a few on the desktop.” Later he laments the fact that with everybody acquiring a computer at home, cyber café business has almost halved.  
Just then a customer walks in and Chauhan wastes no time in shooing away the boys from one terminal.
“Time up,” he shouts, as he clears the way for the next customer, who promises more revenue than our rock star.               
A furlong away, Gold Star cyber café, tucked away in another seedy bylane of Indira market also has a few school children of Karan’s age but not enough to match Chauhan’s business. Inquiries revealed that Gold Star hasn’t introduced the price differential yet. My eyes fall on a curly mop of head, engrossed in a game.   
Ikram Ahmed’s (10) father is a tailor. He is also a Class second student of “English medium Rockstar school.”
 “School main computer hai, par chalta nahi hai (We have a computer in school but it’s dysfunctional,” he brusquely tells this correspondent, hating the interruption and eager to go back to his game.
Asked who taught them the basics, he does a double-take. “No one,” he declares with a shrug, amused at the dumb question. “Aate hain, khelte hain aur apne aap seekh jate hain.. (They come, they play and they learn on their own)” says Chauhan.
“Your parents don’t scold you?” I enquire.

“Not when I tell them I am learning computers,” quips Ikram.

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