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Business News/ Lounge / Ideas/  Another view of India: The curious foreigners online

Another view of India: The curious foreigners online

Some foreign content creators who live in India have moved beyond clickbait to share what they’ve learnt here

From left: Nick Booker’s video sharing trivia about the INA Market in Delhi; and Karl Rock’s recent playlist of videos of travelling in KashmirPremium
From left: Nick Booker’s video sharing trivia about the INA Market in Delhi; and Karl Rock’s recent playlist of videos of travelling in Kashmir

Not too long ago, YouTube and Instagram were flooded with non-desi people “reacting" to various Indian things, from food to film trailers. Others would dance to Bollywood numbers or lip-sync Tollywood dialogue. Differing in intent and quality, both would bait desi audiences. Hundreds of thousands of views and comments, either fascinated or irritated, would fast follow. And soon, the videos would have met their objective: big reach leading to huge online clout. 

Such content continues to pop up. A few weeks ago, an ignorant American TikToker wondered why India is never in the news and why it has never fought a war.While the video, which also made it to Instagram, was silly, many took the bait, choosing to “react" to the monologue. She has since taken down the video, but it had circulated far already. 

When numbers are considered, such content is expected. Earlier this month, the YouGov India Media Morph 2024 report said that 49% of urban Indians spend over 6 hours a week on social media with 18-24-year-olds topping the list. About 12% of them invest 21-plus hours in social media. In the global village of the internet, a creator would be short-sighted not to consider this. 

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Ayush Shukla, founder of Finnet Media, an influencer agency agrees. “International creators are trying to reach Indian audiences. It’s strategic. Why else would IShowSpeed (Darren Jason Watkins Jr.) act to Indian music or come to India to watch cricket matches," says Shukla. Also, “it makes us feel important" when those abroad engage with us, he adds. 

It’s true that post-colonial baggage lingers. Despite the cultural politics, a crop of non-Indian creators living in India and making content about life here have made space for themselves. Many are married to Indians. Think New Zealander Karl Rock, whose travel content has 2.9 million followers on Youtube and 224,000 on Instagram, and Canadian Caleb Friesen, who focuses on the startup ecosystem and has 12,900 followers on Twitter. Then there’s Chilean-American English teacher Aparna Mulberry who also makes Malayalam content for her 969,000 followers on Instagram, and American Jessica Kumar whose Hindi lessons have earned her 207,000 fans on Instagram. 

The latest entrant to the scene is Britisher Nick Booker who makes short videos on India’s history and heritage and has 187,000 followers on Instagram. In India for 17 years and leading study abroad programmes, Booker got Instagram-famous in just over four months since he started making videos ranging from trivia about lemons from north east India to the type of bricks used to make Delhi’s Safdarjung Tomb. Booker guesses that his content works because of the “surprise factor" of a foreigner sharing nuggets not always known to locals. 

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Rock, who has visited India since 2013, started making videos for foreign tourists in 2018 and settled here in 2019. The videos were not aimed at Indian audiences, he says, but today, he has a roughly 50-50 breakup of Indian to foreign audiences. “It just happened...since my content is about travel in north India, south Indians find it useful, too," he says.

Those engaging with Booker’s content (75% of his audience is in India, and the rest in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand) seem to enjoy his curiosity. “Docendo discimus. That’s Latin for ‘by teaching we learn’," he says. “By sharing what I know about India, I’m able to deepen my understanding and learn from the people who contact me after every post."

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Vangmayi Parakala
Vangmayi Parakala is a features writer at Mint Lounge, focusing on visual and literary culture. She is an alumna of the Department of English at the University of Delhi and of the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University.
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Published: 02 May 2024, 02:12 PM IST
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