It’s a little after sundown, and Arun Kumar is hawking his wares in the neighborhood for the first time. He’s selling a light, just a small half-circle tied to a three-inch-wide solar panel. An older man tests it in his home, a tiny hut of tarp and tin built like the 30 others in this slum settlement on the far north side of Bangalore. A kerosene lamp flickers inside.
At a second home, Arun wields his 1,600-rupee ($29.48) gizmo for a woman seated with nine children. He points out the small cellphone charger in the light’s rear. The woman turns inside, pulling out her phone to consult her husband.
She is one of millions in India and worldwide in a surreal contemporary fix: She owns a cell phone, but her home has no toilet or power line. The country’s mobile users mushroomed in a few short years, reaching some 900 million. Cheap phones have not suddenly lifted owners out of poverty. But they have given them access to resources and economic ladders once unreachable.