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India's E-mail Evangelist Hopes to Win Converts to Internet

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Ketan Shah is a latter-day missionary. Call him an e-mail evangelist if you like. Armed with a master's degree in computer science from the United States and with a nose for a burgeoning market, Mr. Shah is taking the Internet to India.

Shah hopes to win converts in Calcutta's schools, where he uses nothing more high-tech than chalk and a blackboard to lecture children about the possibilities of surfing the World Wide Web.

"Right now, I'm just selling the concept, telling them what the Internet is. Eventually though, I want every school and college to be on the Net," declares Shah, who worked for six years as a telecommunications engineer in Dallas before returning to Calcutta.

In this nation of 800 million people, where telephones are a luxury and computers still relatively rare, Shah's ambition is grand indeed. A late starter on the information superhighway, India only opened its first Internet service in August last year. Today there are just over 30,000 Internet users in India, compared with 100,000 in tiny Singapore.

By taking his message to India's schools, Shah is hoping that his young converts will bring the good news home to their parents. "If you can get the kids interested, they will tell their parents. If a son tells his father about the Net, he can be much more convincing than me," he says

The hub for Shah's "Net quest" is his Cyber Amigo Cafe. Opened in October last year in Calcutta's upscale Park Hotel, the Cyber Amigo Cafe boasts six terminals and its own high-speed satellite link - the safest way round India's crackling telephone lines, says Shah.


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