Look who I had in the back of my cab …

By Barry Fox WHILE computer buffs in the West send video e-mails to each other just for fun, for Bombay’s 110 000 taxi drivers they have become a vital link with the folks back home. Many drivers come from villages in Jaunpur some 1200 kilometres away in the north of the country. They can only afford to go home every year or two, and letters take 10 days to reach their destination. But now the drivers can send a personal video message that arrives within minutes. In 1991, India’s Department of Telecommunications set up a network of manually operated phone booths where callers can pay an operator to dial a number and connect them. In February, the department installed Pentium II PCs, modems and video cameras in eight booths in Bombay and Jaunpur as part of a trial. Anyone can now come in, pay 30p and record a 3-minute video message for their family. The video sequence is compressed into a 2-megabyte file and e-mailed to a distant booth where it is stored on a PC, decompressed and screened. The family can then reply with a video message that is sent back to Bombay. Dewang Mehta, president of India’s National Association of Software and Service Companies, hopes that the video e-mail scheme will help spread PC awareness. Franchise holders of booths are clamouring to install the equipment, he says. “The only difficulty has been in persuading the wives to take off their veils before recording a reply,
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