One hot afternoon on August 31, the youth of Barbhatta village thronged Vikash Telecom Download Centre to get their latest fix of Bhojpuri music. Amresh Kumar, 27, sat behind a desk, working on a computer connected to the internet through a mobile SIM card.
The village of Barbhatta is about 50 km from the main town in Samastipur district in central Bihar. Kumar's store is one-of-its-kind in Barbhatta, where he charges locals Rs 5 to download popular songs, and in a few instances, movie clips of the latest Bhojpuri fare.
Kumar runs multiple businesses – phone recharge, repair, and document laminations. He even oversees his family’s popular wedding band service. Strictly speaking, he is not the only one with a laptop in the village, but the only one who realised there was a market for entertainment. “Everyone likes movies, and they like to watch it at leisure. There is no concept of DVDs here”, he said shyly.
Paralysed from his waist downwards since childhood, he relies mostly on his hands to walk. He said using the computer can be difficult sometimes but this has not stopped him from learning how to use it on his own. “Shauk lag gaya. I really liked it,” he said.
Who are his clients? Unexpectedly, not just youth, but men of all ages visit his shop. When we asked about women, he laughed, “Women don’t usually come here, but I can’t say who else watches at their home, it could be anyone!”
Which songs are the local favourites this week? “How can I say what is the trend this week,” he said, “when customer needs are changing every single day?” For the few asking for movie clips, most prefer HD prints, since these are ‘fresh and clean’, he added.
Then why are the doors to his store shut today? Kumar claimed the uncertainty in his business has to do with poor electricity in the village, which has ultimately affected his business targets. In a month, villagers of Barbhatta face frequent power cuts and shortages, sometimes upto a week at a stretch. No electricity means no laptop charge for Kumar. “The earnings vary, some days I earn only Rs 100, other days, Rs 500 from this business. I don’t know what to expect.”
Kumar has not heard about government initiatives like Digital India, but he had some advice for the government: “Till you solve the problem of electricity, nothing will happen.”