There are three old men cooking out in the open, of a green field under the blue sky. There are some men catching fish in the ditches and streams in a very innovative way. Then there are children running around, playing and having fun with elephants, horses and other animals made of bamboo. Then again, the entire locality seems have got together in a cook-out. These scenes have all been captured in video.
This is the village Shimulia of Khoksha upazila in Kushtia district. These lively people in front of the camera are all from Shimulia, and so are those behind the camera. The village is now known as ‘YouTube Village’ and many of the residents are making a good income out of these videos.
It is a lazy afternoon and the silence is broken by a dove call. It coos at regular intervals. There is a clearing next to a paddy field, shaded by leafy trees. On one side there is a farmhouse. Surrounding the area is a bamboo grove, creepers, mango and other fruit trees.
There is some serious cooking going on in the clearing. Three large pots of biriyani are taken down from the fire. Three white haired elderly men are sitting on a mat spread out on the green grass, ready to eat. They are active Facebook and YouTube users. They are Liaqat Ali, Lokman Ali and Atiar Ali. They cook with their gamchhas (local scarf) tied around their heads like bandanas, sometimes wearing vests, sometimes bare bodied.
They enjoy the food and after the meal, they pack the rest of the food and take it to disabled and old people of the village. Their activities are filmed and regularly uploaded on the YouTube channel, Village Grandpas’ cooking. And thousands of people view these three grandpas and their culinary activities.
A visit to Shimulia on 31 October opened vistas of activity in this ‘YouTube Village’. These ‘dadus’ or grandpas cook on the homestead of Delwar Hossain, the primary school teacher of Mollapara in the village. They had just finished cooking and were removing the lids of three mid-sized biriyani pots. They sat with the food served on the lids in front of them while Sajib Hossain was busy with his DSLR camera. This young man was making a video, directing them, telling them talk, to serve the food.
“Yum, it tastes delish!” said Liaqat Ali, as directed by Sajib, after having a mouthful of the biriyani. The other two nodded in agreement. These three had been busy since the morning, slaughtering three sheep, cutting up the meat and cooking 17kg of rice for the biriyani. They had helpers too.
They chatted as they ate. Lokman said, “There are eight of us and another ‘dada’. That dadu’s name was Nawab Ali.
Atiar Ali narrated their tale, “We are getting on in years and can’t do hard work in the fields anymore. And we don’t want to ask our children for help. So this work is good. We get 400 taka a day.”
Once they finish their meal, they will pack up the biriyani.
There is more going in the YouTube Village.
Beef tehari for the village folk
Delwar Hossain’s house is just a few minutes away from the farmhouse. Tehari is being cooked there. Delwar Hossain explains, “This is the AroundMeBD cooking. Today they are going to cook tehari with 43 kgs of beef and 60 kg of rice.”
AroundMeBD is quite well-known. Sometimes it has videos of the entire locality cooking together, or innovative ways of catching fish in the local ditches and streams. Then there are children playing merrily with large bamboo elephants, horses and other animals. One of the videos of this channel has been viewed 80 million times.
There are some women who cook in the channel too. They are all housewives. Some are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, some are sisters-in-law. On that day, these women were all dressed alike, some washing the meat, some grinding spices. When these groups get together to cook, it’s a lot fun, laughing, talking -- all very lively. A young man Ashraful Islam was filming it all on DSLR camera.
The ingredients were all ready. Rupa Khatun added the spices, salt and oil to the meat in the large pot. As the camera came close, she began to speak, “Now we have to gradually marinate the meat.” The scene was filmed.
Liton Ali supervised the cooking. He owns the YouTube channels AroundMeBD and Village Grandpas’ Cooking.
Around Liton Ali
The tehari pot has been placed in the fire. Liton Ali sits down to talk about it all. “To tell the truth, this was totally unplanned.” From the earlier videos it is evident that this was an unplanned venture. The earlier videos we snippets of various scenes and activities – a roadside stall selling earthenware, jeans being stitched at a garments factory, fish being sold at a fish market, fish being caught in a village, snake charmers, a bustling market and so on. “That’s why I called it AroundMeBD.”
Liton Ali is quite a role model among the youth in the village. He is a software engineer, having studied at the Khulna University of Engineering and Technology (KUET). He runs an IT company in Mirpur, Dhaka, along with his uncle. When he would visit the village, people would rush to him and ask him to help them do something too.
Liton Ali said, “I started the YouTube channel for fun, but later I realised this could be a source of income. I felt the need to do something for my people.”
Then he officially began work on AroundMeBD. His uncle Delwar Hossain supported him. Initially they would use their savings to arrange the cooking. The filming of the video is done in Shimulia and the editing in Dhaka. Within a few months the videos of the village went viral.
AroundMeBD videos have been shared on many popular food and cooking Facebook pages. Food reviewer Sunny Side of ‘Best Ever Food Review Show’ even rushed over to Shimulia to see the food cooked there. Many local food aficionados visited Shimulia too. And the channel’s subscribers spiraled. The YouTube channel’s earnings grew too.
Liton Ali said, “A large chunk of our viewers are from India. There are many in the US too. The revenue depends a lot on from where the video is being viewed. They revenue is used to buy the ingredients and other necessary items for cooking and to pay four videographers, the cooks and around 50 people in all.”
Liton Ali has dreams. “Shimulia is known by many as YouTube Village now. I began without any plans, but now I am more organised. I will start up another channel for a variety of very uncommon things. This will generate employment or more people.”
Liton took us around the village, showing us various events in Shimulia. Our attention was caught by elephants, tortoises and dinosaurs in the next village.
These were made of bamboo. A home was being built upon a pond. The constructing of this house would be uploaded on video.
It was 4:00pm by the time we returned from the neighbouring village to Mollapara. People were coming up with plates and bowls. Liton Ali said, “Before people would crowd around to see the cooking, but they are used to it now. They just come when it’s meal time.”
Within 20 minutes, around 200 people had gathered there. First there was the queue of children, then women, and then men. Musammat Begum. Zobeda Khatun, Rasheda Khatun and other began serving and the camera was filming in full swing!
Some sat there and ate, others took the food away to eat at home. And the three grandpas rushed off in a battery-run rickshaw to Kumarkhali upazila with biriyani for the helpless and destitute. Liton waved to them.
He said, “I am doing this for the people of this village and to arrange food for the destitute. There could be nothing that makes me happier.”