Until Dec 31,2013, I was a Senior Editor at Forbes India and I usually wrote about science and technology on this blog. I believe while we may have settled into consuming the nicely packaged final products of science - technology being a hand maiden of science - we are distancing ourselves from all the effort that goes into it. This blog was an attempt to bring occasional peek into those efforts and ideas. I've been a journalist for 17 years and have written for The Asian Age, The Times of India, Mint, Red Herring, IEEE-Spectrum, Cell, New Scientist and others. I'm now available at firstname.lastname@example.org You will find my future articles on www.seemasingh.in
Just as Everybody Loves a Good Drought (acclaimed book by noted journalist P Sainath), everybody loves, or at least loved until now, a low-cost computing story. That perhaps explains why the $35 Aakash tablet story was covered by the press, both local and international, the way it was.
Only one other device, India’s first truly low-cost computer named Simputer, created bigger media frenzy. While it deserved all the attention then, the founders still can’t fathom why or how it caught the fancy of the press, so much so that international press kept coming in droves for some years. One of the founders tells me that he intends to write a paper on this. I am sure that’ll make for a good story too!
As Mint reports today, the HRD ministry, whose ridiculously naive idea it was, is close to shutting down this project. Yes, merely a project is what it was, pursued by some for their grubby little self-interests. That the ministry under Pallam Raju has decided to consign it to the bin, a place where it always belonged, it will bring a closure to this murky story. At Forbes India, we gave it a decent burial nearly a year ago. The story, What Went Wrong with Aakash Tablet, details how the idea was “stillborn” and no amount of clinical intervention could revive it.
One of the members of the committee that has reviewed Aakash for MHRD tells me that the committee’s verdict is: “It was a sham from the beginning and it continues to remain a sham even today despite a few IITs adding their heft to it”. The report is not yet public but it’s the end of the device’s ignominious journey. “It’s not a scam,” says this committee member. Fair enough, nowhere in my earlier writings have I said so.
But before we close the chapter, hopefully for ever, let’s give one small credit to the architects. It at least got the market buzzing. Some new and some established hardware companies started looking at low-cost tablets for education for the first time. Even customers in the US took this device very seriously. “They thought we could supply at $35, we had to convince them it wasn’t possible. In fact, we had to undo what media and Aakash had done,” says an entrepreneur in Bangalore.
While we’ll wait for the committee report to become public, I don’t think it’ll say anything more than what we've already said on this site over the last several months.