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Love in the time of texting

Indian teens use mobile phones to thwart taboos, tradition and, of course, their parents.

Parents who have caught on are blaming text messaging for promoting Western-style teenage romance and dating behavior in this still-conservative country, where parental controls are typically not relinquished until the children grow up and marry, and sometimes even longer.

With 400 million mobile phone users currently, and 10 million more added each month, India is the world’s fastest growing cell phone market. India's youth are helping to fuel the increase.

Cell phones offer a private, inexpensive means of networking for youth, said Raghunath Mandava, a chief marketing officer at the New Delhi-based Bharti Airtel, India’s largest cell phone service provider.

The texting phenomenon cuts across economic lines in a country where only a small fraction of the population has internet access, he said.

At rates as low as 0.10 rupee (a fraction of a cent) for a text message, down from 10 times that rate last year, young India is texting furiously. According to Bharti, which currently has 100 million users, 40 percent of its users send the bulk of text messages — more than 3 billion  every month.

Texting, Mandava said, is big among Indians “who are in situations where rightful privacy is also deprived,” as they live in crowded cities and cramped spaces.

Mobile phones are slowly seeping into everyday life in India. Billboards describe how easy it is to buy multiplex movie tickets by SMS or text messaging. Radio stations ask listeners to text in traffic hotspots. Banks urge Indians to use their cell phones to complete financial transactions.

So, it is only natural that teenagers like Jaykumar and Rajesh have quickly taken to cell phone romance and find themselves texting both their male and female friends in every spare moment.

While the debate in the West centers on whether technology is killing romance, in India technology seems to be encouraging romance, albeit furtively.

The scrolling bars on many satellite music channels airing Bollywood songs pulsate with teenage text missives. “R U Ok? I miss U” says one. “Last evening was un4gettable” says the next. A particularly telling one asks, “Shall we meet 2moro, same time? Home Alone.”

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