The faded wall-painting in Raipur is for an event management company called Crazy Chaps. Only one part has been repainted, the only bit that matters: the mobile phone number. In a small but telling way, it speaks of the centrality of the mobile phone in India; it is as if almost every aspect of one’s identity can somehow be encapsulated in this tiny device. Everywhere we went on our annual pilgrimage to small-town India, in our attempt to understand how it was embracing change, we found the powerful influence of this sliver of technology. Indeed, there were times when if one were to freeze-frame on a random scene, every single person in it would be doing something with a phone. Mobile phone usage has settled over small-town India like a coating of access, creating intricate new networks of access while also serving as part-rabbit-hole into the self and part ejection hatch into an outside world full of nameless opportunity. The small town reaches beyond itself, and suddenly everything is within grasp.
For many, perhaps the most profound way in which it has changed them begins in the act of owning a mobile phone itself. To get a unique number, and with it the ability to reach anyone with a phone and in turn be reached by anyone gave one an address in the new world. The mobile phone is a giant act of inclusion and an assertion of the significance of the individual as she becomes part of a network of possibilities, a citizen of a new collective. The conferment of identity in a way that could be tangibly experienced has been perhaps the most important contribution made by this increasingly versatile device. Across the country, in so many different ways, the mobile phone is making the individual experience herself as a brighter dot on the map of the world.