Ever watched a Photoshop tutorial online? Cooked a recipe from Pinterest? Learned guitar through an app? Downloaded a MOOC with no intention of ever watching it? You probably felt a sense of accomplishment, didn’t you? Well, prepare to have that shattered forever, because Prem Thakur, a 19-year-old from Mumbai just built a kelly green, Mad Max-style buggie from scratch. He learned everything—down to the custom paint and intensive welding—entirely on YouTube. Oh yeah, and his budget was $3,700, the price of a 1995 Toyota Celica with tinted windows.
And you can bet that that Celica isn’t going to cause crowds to form around you everywhere you go. That’s what happens whenever Thakur pulls up to a gas station; one of the many perks of being the Indian MacGyver.
Prem started this undertaking with nothing but a used Hyundai Accent. He completely disassembled it, and rebuilt everything himself down to the chassis. The finished product has no trouble reaching highway speeds, or parallel parking for that matter. It has a dressed-down, hollow interior and a naked stick shift that adds to a minimalist appeal (among a number of other appeals).
Thakur credits his interest in cars to the first computer his father, an auto rickshaw driver, bought him as a boy. His parents and grandmother helped him foot the cost of putting YouTube tutorials into practice. Apparently he didn’t need much practice: without any engineering education, he was able to build the entire thing in four months. He hopes to drive it on a race track soon.
Prem Thakur was able to turn limited resources into freedom, confidence, acclaim, and opportunity; call it the Indian Dream, or the Internet Dream. He emphasizes in interviews that none of this would be possible without the internet, and YouTube specifically.
Cases like Thakur’s remind us that the industriousness fostered in developing countries—thanks to the internet and cellular access—is perhaps our greatest hope for the future. While we decide whether or not we want a TV villain for a president, countries like India are on the come-up, and they’re actually watching those MOOCs you downloaded. It’s hard to say which came first, the internet or the industrious Indian, but statistics show that as the internet came of age from 2001-2011, 700 million people were lifted out of poverty. That includes people like Prem Thakur’s parents, who joined a new global middle class. When people like the Thakurs do well, everyone does well.
Perhaps the greatest irony of this era is that while Prem Thakur is using the internet to gain access to modern technologies, millions of people here in the U.S. and in other developed nations are using YouTube to look back at a culture of workmanship and artisanal practices. Viral channels like Primitive Technology teach us how to live in a world before computers were ubiquitous—a world Prem knows all too well. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of YouTube.
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