On my shoulders is slung a backpack similar to those carried by the London bombers. In my hand is a pirated copy of Frederick Forsyth’s The Afghan picked up from the pavement outside the Don’t Pass Me By Cafe. The cyber café near Janpath is on the first floor of a dingy Xerox shop called MRS Photostat. A dark staircase and a plastic sheet of a curtain lead to the surfing area.
There are no monsters lurking here, only one babu type posting his resume on monster.com and a pimply teenager jotting down notes from gapyear.com. I pretend to check my mail and compose a congratulatory mail addressed to myself.
The man on my right makes me suspicious. He is browsing through the Congress website and scrolling through the addresses of the party’s Delhi office-bearers. He doesn’t look like an insurgent though. Five feet nothing, matching beige trousers and shirt, routine handlebar moustache. My half an hour is up.
I now venture into Bainson Café where a newspaper clip on the wall brings a smile to my face. It is a Delhi Police ad urging: Cyber Cafe owners to “cooperate with us in curbing anti-social activities.” I await my turn as an elderly gentleman before me gets his due of the Rs 20 spent for an hour. As I take a seat, I notice my neighbour is on an auction site. I continue to be the fly on the wall and sneak a look:
He has just ordered a used 6610 phone from www.rediff-shopping.com.
Next in line is a cyber café on the second floor of Scindia House.
Here too, the story is the same: No questions asked, no identify proof needed.
I move on to a cyber café in N Block reportedly popular with European tourists. This one is swanky. With comfortable seating, neat separations and airy environs, Sunrise Cyber Cafe has a bright feel to it. At Rs 20 for 30 minutes the surfing fee is double the other cafés. The management appears to be in the know of the police orders. Prominent signs outside the shop announce: “It has been made mandatory by Delhi Police to get identification proof of the persons using the Internet. So get the photocopy of driving license, photo identity card, passport or any company identity proof. Please bear with us and cooperate.”
Unfortunately, beyond the lip service the story here is the same. I overhear a Frenchwoman break into a joke with her blonde friend. He is busy comparing tech-specs of an all-terrain vehicle on an auto site.
There is a mandatory entry made in a register, the kind guards make you fill at apartment gates. I fill in, Jason Bourne, Carlos Avenue, Zurich and 9800700007 as my particulars. No proof is asked for or provided. Three other tourists walk in and immediately begin surfing without any questions asked. A poster on the wall announces availability of mineral water and cold drinks. Security consciousness? That may have to wait for another sunrise.