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07 July 2013

'Hole in the Wall' Redux

In one of his articles, Mr.Shekhar Kapur, noted film director, talks about his experience of finding a 'Hole in the Wall', in the by-lanes of Juhu in Mumbai, which specialized in repairing high-end mobile phones including Blackberries and iPhone.

He sites this as an example of the thriving grassroots enterprise in India. You can read the article here.

In the article, Mr.Kapur mentioned about how his blackberry had conked off and how he was searching around for a Blackberry Dealer to either repair his phone and  if the repair was not possible, to purchase a new phone at a cost of about 40000 rupees. While roaming around in the bylanes of Juhu market in Mumbai, he came across a small shop named 'Cellphoon reapars' where a boy, who seemed all of 10 years, informed Mr.Kapur that he, the boy, can repair his Blackberry Phone.

While a curious and amused Mr.Kapur was talking to this small boy (without handing over his precious phone to the boy, of course), an older boy appeared. The older boy, claiming to be 19 years old (and looked to be about 16 years old) identified himself as the elder brother of the other boy and claimed that  he can repair the phone.

Before Mr.Kapur could say anything, this elder boy, took the phone from Mr.Kapur, gave it an expert look and announced that the 'Rollerball'  has jammed and it needed repair.

'Can you do it?' Mr.Kapur wanted to know.

'Yes, I can. Shall I go ahead?' asked the boy.

By now Mr.Kapur was beholden by curiosity. He wanted to know where this will end. He gave a go ahead.

In all of 6 minutes or so, this boy dismantled the phone, replaced the ball and fitted the phone again and handed it back to Mr.Kapur. It was impressive.

'What should I do to ensure that this works fine?', asked Mr.Kapur

'Keep your hands clean', came the answer.

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Mr.Kapur wraps up his article by praising the 'Indian Innovation' where many similar 'Holes in the Wall' exist and that we should try and tap this huge potential of innovation and entrepreneurship that exist in the lanes and by-lanes that crisscross the vast country that is India.

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I was telling this story to my cousin who works in Mumbai.

My cousin works as an Electrical Engineer in a Public Sector Company in Mumbai. One of his many responsibilities is to ensure the smooth running of the many air conditioners, refrigerators and freezers in his company.

Once in a while some machine or the other conks off. Any time a machine conks off, he calls Rajen.

Rajen owns one of those 'holes in the wall' kind of shop that dots the lanes of India. His shop is in one of those lanes in Dadar, in Mumbai. He services Air Conditioners, Refrigerators, Washing Machines and other kinds of electro-mechanical equipments used for both industrial and domestic purposes.

Any time a machine needed repair, my cousin will call Rajen. Rajen will come to his office, dismantle the machine and will transport the same to his workshop.

Once the machine is repaired, Rajen will personally transport the same to my cousin's office, install it, get it tested and hand it over to my cousin.

Normal time taken in this whole exercise was 3 days. Rajen used to charge only for his labour. No charges for the technician's visit, no charges for dismantling and analysing the problem and no transportation charges for transporting the machine from my cousin's office to his workshop and back.

Only the repairing charges were charged.

Over a period of time, Rajen became familiar with each and every equipment in my Cousin's office.

Things changed at my cousin's office. He had a new boss.

One day a Blue Star Air conditioner in the office conked off. As usual, my cousin was about to call Rajen, but his boss had other ideas.

"Since the machine belongs to Blue Star, it is better to call the company technician for repairing the machine. The quality of work done by these company technicians will be much better. These 'holes in the wall' kind of guys are unreliable", the boss opined.

Blue Star technician was called. He came, he saw, he charged...

Rupees 250 technician visiting charges
Rupees 500 machine dismantling and inspection charges
Rupees 500 transportation charges to take the machine to the work shop. (Another 500 to transfer it back to the office)

The mechanic took away the machine. The company technician informed that it will take about 10 days to repair the machine (will try to do it faster, sir. Definitely. But you know how these repairing mechanics are.  No work ethics...)

After about three days of Blue Star Technician taking away the machine, my cousin got a call from Rajen.

"Sir, did you give your Air Conditioner to Blue Star Technician for repair?" queried Rajen

"Yes. Why? How did you know?", my cousin asked.

"Blue Star guys have handed it over to me for repair." came the response.

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