A news item published in TIME MAGAZINE (VOL.157 NO.22)

Monday, JUNE 4, 2001

Bridging the Gap

Is technology relevant? Ask a wheelchair-bound ham operator, poor Indian farmers and an expat son worried about his ill dad.

THE MOBILE MAN "Victor uniform two mike Kilo Papa," Robert Kohli barks into a microphone, his voice spinning off into the ether via an amateur radio satellite 4,500 km up in the sky. He pauses to listen for incoming signals. He hears a crackle, then the voice of Charlie from Hong Kong: "You are strong as ever today."

Each morning, Kohli, a Swiss national who suffers from multiple sclerosis, which has left him paralyzed from the neck down, maneuvers his wheelchair using a chin-operated control to a table in the living room of his Bangalore bungalow. There, neatly laid out, are his laptop, transceivers and an assortment of amateur radio equipment. His physical movements may be limited, but by using his mouth to manipulate a set of three sticks to work his laptop, Kohli, an avid ham operator, can change the direction and height of the four massive antennas on his roof and communicate with the world.

A Bangalore patient comes face-to-face with family overseas Doctors also provide firsthand medical updates online Tech innovations have given a wheelchair-bound ham operator a new lease on life

Our Interactive World, an hour-long special hosted by CNN's Michael Holmes and Tumi Makgabo, featuring luminaries from the world of information technology Life has become richer for Kohli, 59, since he moved in 1994 to the sprawling Koramangala suburb of Bangalore, home to many of India's well-known technology companies. His disease had ended his career as a technical adviser to Contraves, a Swiss antiaircraft surveillance radar manufacturer. In India his illness is treated more matter-of-factly, and Kohli and his wife Teresa are able to affordably manage their bustling brood of five foster children, ranging in age from 2 to 14, with the help of a driver, a gardener and two maids.

Nearly every day VU2MKP, Kohli's ham radio name, converses with the world with Suleiman in Saudi Arabia, Xavier in Germany, Hal from Johannesburg. He and Charlie from Hong Kong talk about growing bananas in the backyard. With Chandru, who also lives in Koramangala, he discusses the latest antenna technology. A program running on his laptop helps him track which of 20 radio satellites are available at any given moment. Details about his radio friends show up through an automatic program as soon as he feeds their code in with his stick.

Technology also allows Kohli to be independently mobile. In his battery-operated wheelchair, he has clocked some 4,000 km in the past couple of years, visiting friends and shopping at the weekly farmers' market. "My wheelchair is interactive," Kohli jokes. Evenings he spends with his family or eyeballing (as face-to-face meetings are called) local ham buddies over a beer at the neighborhood pub. "I gave up the Swiss climate that I loved," he says. "I thought: What use is the climate if I have to spend the rest of my life in a ghetto?" India and innovations have made him free.

By SARITHA RAI - Bangalore

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