Mudassir Ansari had not seen a computer till he turned 18. Today, he uses technology to bring internet connectivity to rural India and empower thousands with digital literacy.
Coming from a long line of weavers, Mudassir Ansari grew up to the rhythmic clacking of handloom machines in his hometown of Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh. For the Ansari family, weaving was more than just a means to earn a living – it was a legacy shared with their children, generation after generation.
By the 1990s however, most of their machines fell silent. Globalisation and easy access to cheap, printed material meant that many weavers across India were out of work.
BIDDING GOODBYE TO A BYGONE ERA
In a bid to cope with the changing world around him, Mudassir’s father became a tourist guide. The family even went on to set up a phone booth. Despite this, making ends meet continued to be a challenge.
Thoughts of the future weighed heavily on Mudassir’s mind and he came to the conclusion that something radical had to be done to change the status quo: “I realised that every generation brings with it its own set of changes. If you don’t change with the times, you will be left behind.”
Providing for his family and securing their future gave Mudassir sleepless nights, till he hit upon a solution.
“I noticed that PCs were fast becoming an integral part of all aspects of life. From government and corporate offices to hospitals, schools and colleges, PCs were making their presence felt in all fields. I understood that if we didn’t make an attempt to learn computing, we would be confined to our small town and to our limited income. There would be no change and that would prove detrimental for the family. Learning how to use this device was our ticket to a better life,” he said.
“In the 1990s, knowing how to operate a computer was a big deal in our town, especially since there were no institutes or classes that imparted the skill. People who wished to learn computing had to travel to other cities and attend classes there. The nearest city was just 30 kilometres away but I had never been there. When I decided to learn how to work on a PC, my life changed,” he added.
Mudassir attended classes and, through continued practice, became proficient in using the PC.
“My father was overjoyed. He would tell everyone he met that his son knew how to use a PC. It became a sign of progress, of a higher social status even,” he recalled with a smile.
In 2006, confident about the value that owning a PC would add to his son’s life, Mudassir’s father bought him his very first computer. “We travelled all the way to Bhopal to buy the computer. It was the first time I had ever been to such a big city. Once again, I had technology to thank for helping me explore the world,” he said.
In 2009, the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), an NGO dedicated to promoting connectivity in rural India, set up an Internet Resource Centre in Chanderi.
Impressed by Mudassir’s hard work and resolve to learn how a computer works, the organisation took him in and began to instruct him. In addition to being trained in basic computer skills, he learnt about wireless networking.
After completing his training, Mudassir joined DEF as a networking engineer.
“In 2010, DEF decided to bring Wifi connectivity to Chanderi. I played an integral role in ensuring that the railway station, the hotels and numerous monuments became Wi-Fi zones. I was ecstatic to help the entire city get connectivity. We were among the first few cities in India to have this facility,” he said with justified pride. From thereon, there was no looking back for Mudassir.
“Guna, Shivpuri, Alwar, Nagaon, Sonapur…,” Mudassir rattled off the list of towns he had helped bring Internet connectivity to. To date, he has helped more than 50 towns and villages get online
His work doesn’t end with just ensuring connectivity either. “When we brought connectivity to a zilla in Madhya Pradesh, I helped set up a two-month course for the local women. I taught close to 2,500 rural women basic computing skills so that tomorrow they are able teach their children. My hope is that once they realise how important PCs are, regardless of their economic status, they will ensure their children learn basic computing. After all, it is a tool that can lift them out of poverty.”
In yet another village, Mudassir helped hire an instructor to impart computer training to 20 children:
“Today, ten of those children are using PCs to earn a living. These are girls who were not allowed to step out of the house, but now, working from the comfort of their homes, they are able to support their families. That’s something!”
In this day and age, when people have moved from desktops to portable computing devices like laptops, there are still places in India where people have never even seen a computer, much less worked on one. I get immense satisfaction from knowing I am able to introduce such people to this magic machine. When I see the joy on their faces, I know what I am doing is good,” he said.
PCs have brought a sea-change in Mudassir’s personal and professional life. “I did not study beyond the 12th standard and don’t have a university degree, so just based on my qualifications, my prospects for a job were limited. And yet, today, thanks to my computer skills, I am able to work as a networking engineer and earn more than Rs. 20,000 a month. I have also had the opportunity to lead a team of 20 engineers. Thanks to my job, I have even travelled to different parts of the country – remarkable considering I had not stepped out of the village until I turned 18!” exclaimed Mudassir.
The PC was also an invaluable tool for him to learn English.
“When I started working, I realised that all emails I received were in English. I didn’t like the idea of replying in Hindi, so I started using Google Translate. I would translate the mail that was sent to me, understand the context, and then compose a reply in Hindi. I’d then use Google Translate to translate it into English. That’s how I picked up English!” he revealed.
His success at work has translated to financial security for his entire family, “I am able to fund my younger brother’s education, and I am confident I will be able to give my three children access to quality education,” he added with satisfaction.
“If it weren’t for the PC, I would probably still be manning a small phone booth in a small town in a corner of the country,” concluded Mudassir.