Gulzar Azad, Head of Access Program, Google India

We want people to access the web the way the web was designed to be consumed - that's open, high-speed, that enables every application to be accessed, every page to be accessed

It is 2.30 pm on a typically humid September Thursday at Mumbai Central railway station, and Gautam Maru is well into his second internet “session” of the day. Today, he’s indulging in an extra session after finishing his duties a little earlier. 

Maru works as a staff nurse in Jaslok Hospital, not too far away from the station. The extra session, as Maru referred to his daily internet activity, wasn’t planned. Something urgent was weighing on him: a pending update of some heavy applications on his smartphone. He did not want to use his “costly” mobile data so he simply headed to Mumbai Central. There he logged into Google’s public Wi-Fi internet Railwire, and started the downloads. Fast. Just like data. Only free.

Gautam Maru, a staff nurse at Jaslok Hospital, spends two hours every day browsing the internet at Mumbai Central’s platform number one

Mumbai Central was the first railway station to get the public internet, and Maru has been a regular guzzler at the free data tap.

“I spend two hours here every single day – one hour in the morning between 6.30 and 7.30 am and one in the evening – between 8.30 and 9.30 pm. I have been doing this since January, when the service launched,” he says. In the mornings, the data speed is terrific. “An office-goer may not want to access the internet because he’s concerned about reaching his workplace on time. Similarly, in the evening, people rush back home. That makes it really convenient for me because the crowd is thin,” he explains gleefully, in Hindi.

On most days, it’s easy to spot Maru at platform number one or two streaming videos in the morning. The playlist is not predictable — movies in his native Gujarati language, talks by Pranav Mistry, formerly at MIT Media Lab and now at Samsung, TED Talks, or for that matter, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s video blogs. This, he says, is a fixed morning ritual. “I like listening to inspirational speeches by some of these young leaders. I watch the news sometimes too, but not as regularly.” Evenings at Mumbai Central are all about social networking, where Maru catches up with his Facebook newsfeed, or chats with friends back home in Surat, or makes voice calls on WhatsApp.

Every morning, Maru spends an hour watching talks by Pranav Mistry, Mark Zuckerberg’s vlogs and movies like Chhelo Divas (Gujarati). Source: YouTube

“Why pay for something when Google is making it available for free? I do not have high-speed internet at home, so this is more or less like a cyber cafe for me,” he says.


Venkat Ananth

Venkat is currently in his tenth year in journalism. Prior to The Ken, he was Deputy Content Editor at Mint as part of the newspaper’s digital team. He also wrote in-depth features on the business of sport for the newspaper. His earlier assignments include Yahoo! (as a columnist) and the Hindustan Times, where he began his career. Born in Mumbai, Venkat holds a Bachelor of Mass Media (Journalism) degree from SIES College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Mumbai and a Master of Arts degree in International Studies from Goldsmiths, University of London. He currently resides in New Delhi, where he moved nearly five years ago.

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