Having a computer in the 90s

A brief account of having a computer at home, in India, in the late 90s.

In the mid-90s, my grandfather travelled from India to a country in the western hemisphere in order to visit his daughter, my aunt. There, he saw her using a personal computer at home and was rather surprised by the range of tasks it could perform. In the discussion that followed, my aunt suggested that the machine would soon disrupt the usual way of doing things and it would be prudent for everyone to learn its use as soon as possible. This small encounter turned out to be of great consequence for me. Upon his return to India, my grandfather gifted me and my sister with a personal computer.

When I first saw it, at the age of 7 or 8, I had little idea of what it was. My elder sister, having already started with the subject ‘Computer Lab’ at school, knew better and was quickly running Dangerous Dave 1 on it 2.

As a child, using the machine was magical: so many games 3, curiosities such as Paint and WordPad, the ever-hanging, often-falling axe of BSOD that had to avoided by learning what not to do, and (more or less) my first line of code ever:

repeat 360 [fd 1 rt 1]
# repeat 360 times:
#     move forward 1 step
#     turn right 1 degree

that I executed in Logo to draw a circle. Funnily enough, I didn’t realize that I was coding then; I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as code. All I knew was this: here’s a machine that obeys me and that, in itself, was enough of an ego-boost to make it fun for me, a child. Plus, using a mouse felt quite visceral back then (remember, TVs didn’t interact in those days and touchscreen devices were truly novelty items).

First impressions aside, having a computer at home had one long-term effect: I am never scared of them. I have had many years to figure out how they work, how they break and how they are fixed. In others words, I learnt a lot of what I know today by trial and error, an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had without the luxury of having the machine at home (and very tolerant parents).


1

I still like the game, feel nostalgia for it, and end up playing it online. The fact that one can emulate so much of old software in a browser window never fails to awe me.

I can’t comment on the legality, or lack thereof, of any software I used back then. I remember that some stuff (read games and encyclopedia) was installed by the computer-wala (yeah, that was a thing) by default and I doubt that they were using legal copies. Other stuff, generally freeware and shareware, was installed by me/sister/cousins using CDs that came as covermount with Chip India, and later Digit. In the mid-naughties, before Wikipedia, I spent hours going through the treasure trove called Microsoft Encarta, installed by the computer-wale bhaiya on my computer by special demand. I owed it a lot of my general knowledge of the world back then.

3

I never had a gaming console of any sort for more than a month, and still find them moot when compared to a powerful workstation. But then, my all-time favourite game was released in 1998. Honestly speaking, my affinity for gaming is little and the time I spend on it is even less.