With over 1.7 million subscribers on YouTube, Mohammad Salim Khan is known for his travel vlogs, before which he did odd jobs to support his family in the slums of Dharavi. Here’s how he overcame poverty and followed his passion.
From off-roading on the White Desert of Kutch, riding amid mist in Panchghani Hills, experiencing the thrill of a snow ride in Arunachal, relishing local Assamese food, and meeting soldiers on the India-Pakistan border, Mohammad Salim Khan loves to explore “his Hindustan” on his bike.
With more than 1,000 lifestyle and travel vlogs covering different destinations across the country, the 30-year-old Mumbai-based content creator has earned the fondness of more than 1.7 million people on YouTube.
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His latest escapade was to witness the Ramadan celebrations in the iconic Jama Masjid in New Delhi. And prior to this, he biked nearly 1,300 kilometres to Mathura to celebrate Holi.
In a jolly conversation with The Better India, he says, “I feel free when I ride a bike. I record everything that goes on in my life. Whether it is related to my instantaneous travel to Hyderabad to relish Biryani, going fishing in West Bengal, visiting Gurudwaras and Buddhist temples, or modifying sports bikes. I am known for these expeditions. I keep my religion aside when I travel, then I become an explorer.”
“Our country is so beautiful. From Mumbai, I have biked to Ladakh, Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Kerala, Himachal, and so many other places,” he adds. Salim has also travelled to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, and Russia.
For taking Indian heritage to millions of followers, Salim has also been recognised as one of the 75 Young Cultural Brand Ambassadors of India by the Union Ministry of Culture under the aegis of 75 years of independence.
“It was a very big achievement for me. I have received many awards from private entities but to get validation for my work from the government was very special,” says Salim, who has been listed as India’s Top 100 Digital Stars by Forbes and has been conferred with ‘Vlogger of The Year 2020 StreamConAsia’ award.
Breaking free from “the dark life” of Dharavi
For Salim, his childhood has not been as cheerful as his vlogs. Born in a small village in Dakshin Dinajpur district of West Bengal and brought up in Mumbai’s Dharavi, considered one of the world’s largest slums, he never imagined considering vlogging as a means of livelihood.
Before venturing into creating video content, he did various odd jobs and businesses to support his family of three — his younger brother, his father who worked as a watchman, and his mother who worked as a housemaid. They lived in a small rented shanty in Dharavi.
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“My life was very dark back in Dharavi. People there would get agitated even at the smallest things. There would be arguments over water supply. One day, a person said mean things to my mother and threatened us to vacate the house. It really hurt me. I could never forget that day. But I wanted to give a befitting reply to such people through my work,” he recalls.
As a 13-year-old, he wanted to solve the financial condition of his family. So, he started learning turpai (hemming) work under a local tailor for Rs 10 a week.
“My mother would work as a bai (maid)…she would wash clothes and utensils and clean others’ homes. I had many reasons to work at a young age. When I handed Rs 10, my first income, to my mother, it just felt amazing. I continued work till Class 10 along with my studies. From time to time, I did small jobs like working as a waiter in a hotel,” he says.
Along with his studies and work, he played cricket as he aspired to play for the Indian cricket team. But he had to give up on this dream as he suffered a back injury while competing in school. To make ends meet, he continued the work risking his education.
At the age of 16, Salim started an e-commerce business, wherein he would sell fashion accessories online.
“In college, I heard about Flipkart and got motivated to become a seller. So, I started buying fashion accessories, leather bags, wallets, and shoes from the local market and started selling them online. With this work, I earned enough and even bought a house at the age of 21 in 2014,” says the BCom graduate.
“When we stepped inside our own home in Mumbai, my mother had tears in her eyes. No matter how many bikes I buy today, no matter what I achieve in life, that feeling was incredible. Now, no one can ask her to vacate the house; she is the queen,” he smiles.
Today, Salim manages to earn up to Rs 15 lakh a month with brand integration. “But it is not a fixed amount. Sometimes I earn less and at times, even more than this,” he says.
Vlogger by chance
Salim chose the e-commerce work out of helplessness. He wanted to pursue his passion for acting.
“After cricket, the closest profession in my life was acting. When I joined an acting school, I got opportunities to do advertisements. In 2016, I even won an award for best student filmmaker at the Nashik Film Festival for my short film Insaan. But acting is a profession where you do not get a regular job,” he says.
“While watching a movie, I was introduced to the concept of vlogging. I got fascinated by the work as I used to write about my day-to-day activities. This helped me in writing scripts for vlogs,” he adds.
In September 2016, Salim started his channel ‘MSK Vlogs’ to improve his personality as an actor, work on his fears of facing the camera, and improve his communication skills.
“But once I entered this profession, I started enjoying it more. Eventually, many brands started sponsoring my content, and I realised it could be more than a hobby,” he says.
In 2019, he dedicated himself to creating informative, entertaining, and informative video content through his travel expeditions.
“I never dreamed of vlogging or creating content for YouTube. I just happened to take chance on every opportunity on my way. But now, I love my work. Every day in my life is new. When things are similar, I get bored, so I cannot do a regular job. The best part about my job is freedom, and while doing so, I am able to earn a livelihood. I can even take leave any day I want!” says Salim.
Edited by Pranita Bhat
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