The story starts like this: In April of 2006, Nicholas Negroponte -- of the famed One Laptop Per Child initiative -- brought his idea to New Delhi, inspiring a senior official in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to say that India could develop a comparable laptop for one-tenth of the price, $10 [source: Miller]. In both cases, the aim is to bring high-speed information and Web access to students in developing countries, level the intellectual playing field, and help the brightest stars in remote areas find the training and support they need to become the next generation's thinkers and problem-solvers.
Almost immediately after that point, the story starts to split.
Critics say that the Aakash Tablet project -- which is what this MHRD program would eventually become over the next five years -- is part of a push by the Indian government to prove themselves in the hardware market, expanding their success with software in the sphere of public opinion. The spin on the story becomes something comparable to the narrative surrounding North Korea's doomed nuclear aspirations: an attempt to show global influence and technological excellence.
On the other side, supporters of the Aakash Tablet would tell a different story. One with its roots proudly in the Indian concept of "jugaad," or the quality of making workable objects out of existing technology on a budget. Not bootlegging, or making cheap knock-offs, but an innovative way of looking at things and engineering them to a better purpose. For example, a simplified hand-held electrocardiogram device (the GE MAC 400) that sells for less than half of the cheapest alternative, or a $24 water purifier that uses rice husks, at a tenth of the closest competitor's price, to help save the country's 2 million citizens that die each year from contaminated water [source: Woolridge].
There are other successful examples, all based in the idea of first defining success and then working to reach it. It's a quality the Indian government wishes to integrate into its PR.
As for the Aakash, whose second version debuts in August of 2012, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of these two opinions. In this article, we'll talk about both the high and low points of this contraption, and try to see where it's all leading.