Snigdha Poonam’s Dreamers examines the ambitions of India’s youth.
In early August, a video surfaced of two twentysomething farmers in southern India performing the “Kiki challenge,” an Internet meme born from a song by the Canadian rapper Drake. Where their counterparts in other provinces of YouTube and Instagram danced alongside moving cars and on highways, Anil Geela and Pilli Tirupati strutted through a paddy field in the wake of an oxen-driven plow. Suburban Americans in culs-de-sac had nothing on these lungi-clad men sashaying in rice paddies. Their muddy gyrating not only reached regional and national TV but also made it to BBC broadcasts and won the Twitter endorsements of The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah and Billboard magazine.
The video went viral because it seemed incongruous, with its strains of Drake’s “In My Feelings” layered over a scene of ancient rural toil. But it wasn’t some missive from a remote universe. It shouldn’t be surprising that people in India’s hinterlands are not only connected to online trends but aspire to be part of them. The video’s director had tried in the past to post popular videos from his village. “Nothing clicked,” he complained to The New York Times, “and suddenly this one small video became the rage. My father was flummoxed and asked me, ‘Why did this click?’”
The currency of the “click” has real value even in parts of India where the electrical grid is threadbare and Internet access spotty. Thanks to the smartphone, young Indians—and there are many of them: Over half of India’s population of 1.2 billion people is under the age of 25—tend to have a frame of reference that transcends their physical contexts. “A twenty-year-old in Indore has the same access to information as someone his age in Iowa—and could very well have the same desires,” writes the journalist Snigdha Poonam in Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing the World.“[Young Indians] see no connection between where they live and what they want from their lives.”