This story originally appeared in my short story series – Easy But Hard. To receive similar stories every week, sign up here.
“Bhai sahab!” Ajit said standing in front of the Bhaidaas chaat stall. Bhaidaas listened to him while flipping aloo tikkis on the hot tawaa, “Pay me 5000 rupees and I’ll post a good review of your stall on my YouTube channel. You’ll get thousands of people visiting your stall.”
Ajit had spoken to several food stall operators throughout the day, offering them a review video for different rates. Some had rejected saying they didn’t need more customers, while others didn’t want to pay such a high amount.
He had known Bhaidaas’ stall for about a year, having frequented it from time to time. Bhaidaas made palatable Aloo Tikkis. When dipped in green and red chutneys, the juicy flavour was delectable. The taste had come after operating the stall for more than ten years. Today, Bhaidaas sold about 200 aloo tikkis every day.
“And what do I do with these thousands of people?” Bhaidaas asked.
“What do you mean? Sell them more tikkis and earn more money…” Ajit responded.
Bhaidaas looked around him. His 5 feet by 2 feet thela had a giant tawaa lying on the left side, and on the right side sat dishes, cut vegetables, mashed potatoes and spices. The wooden frame of the stall was creaking from the sides and the colors had started to wear out. His eyes looked worn out as well, as if they could no longer handle the business.
“Do you think this tiny stall can handle thousands of people? If they come and I don’t have enough tikkis, what to do? I am already having a hard time managing current customers.”
“Aren’t more customers good for you? You can hire more people to handle more customers.” Ajit responded. “Think about it – I create a video that goes viral and brings you more customers, then you can expand your food stall to serve them, and in turn, they will bring more customers. It’s a virtuous cycle!”
Bhaidaas had a stoic face. As if people came to him with such proposals every day.
“And what is the guarantee that if I pay you the 5000 rupees, you will be able to bring me these many people?”
“You know that anything can go viral on the internet, right?”
“How many views does your channel get for a new video? Can you show me your YouTube channel?”
“I have made 50 videos so far. Each of them gets about 500 views on average. You can check it out here!” Ajit handed Bhaidaas the phone.
“For such a tiny number of viewers, you expect me to pay you 5000 rupees?”
“No, the point is, your videos will always be on the channel. So even if the number of views is less at the start, you never know, things can pick up any time. Social media is bizarre that way!”
“Hunh, I don’t buy it. For a 25-rupee aloo tikki, you expect me to pay you Rs. 5000 so you can bring me more people that I cannot serve.”
Bhaidaas turned around and continued with his own business.
Ajit stood there looking into his phone, hiding his disappointment. He was in flux right now – his YouTube channel, which he had started about a year ago, wasn’t exactly flying. He had not earned a single rupee from the channel yet, and the viewers were not increasing. He needed to do something to earn money and at the same time increase his following.
Bhaidaas looked at him once again. “If you actually want to help me, you should make a video and post it for free. I will pay you money for every additional person you bring from the channel. Does that work?”
“I think that is only fair. I am not comfortable paying money without seeing results.”
“Well, what if the number of viewers is very low? The earnings I will make that way will be paltry. Amounting to nothing, actually.”
“Two minutes ago, you were arguing that anything on social media could become viral, right? If this goes viral, you will earn a lot of money. Much more than Rs. 5000. I will pay you 10 rupees for every customer your channel brings.”
“That is the deal. Take it or leave it. I think it works out in both of our interests.”
“To me, it seems like you don’t believe in my work.” Ajit breathed heavily.
“Exactly. I don’t believe you can bring me a lot of people. So, stop asking for money that you don’t deserve. If you had lakhs of views, I could have thought about it. But now, hunh!”
Ajit became pensive. There was no end in sight to this frustrating period of his YouTube journey.
“Let me teach you something I have learned from running this business for ten years. People don’t want to pay money before tasting something. If you want them to pay you, you need to convince them about your product. When I started this stall, for about two years, I barely had ten to twenty people coming to eat every day. Every month was a slog. I had to experiment a lot with my tikkis to get them to the right flavour. Today, when people come, they are ready to eat another plate,” Bhaidaas continued, “Don’t jump the gun so fast. You have a long way to go. Hang tight and keep making videos. You will figure it out.”
Ajit turned around to leave but came back a moment later.
“Are you interested in helping me grow my YouTube channel?” he asked, “I will make the videos while you can tell me how to grow and make money from it. We can share the earnings amongst us.”
“Hm, that’s interesting. I see potential. Let me think about it,” Bhaidaas responded.
Ajit left his phone number. His face didn’t look morose as he left. More than Rs. 5000, he needed a mentor to help him grow his YouTube business.
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