‘Hometown’ is one word that invokes a million emotions within us no matter how far we have gone from it or come in life. More so if you have grown up in a relatively small town. Cycling through those narrow lanes, walking aimlessly without a care in the world, waving to every familiar face in sight, catching up with friends at the only popular restaurant, and watching a movie at that single screen theatre are experiences we are ready to pay any price for today. But such is life. We all got so busy growing up, securing degrees, and chasing that hot job that we forgot to notice that with us, our hometown was growing too. And all we were left with was fond memories.
The only thing that can make us feel a little closer to home is staying updated with what is happening there. Businessman Uday Kinjawadekar, 37, decided to make the most of living in the same city he grew up and studied in by writing about it. Today, with over one lakh page views on peak days, his blog-turned-website, All About Belgaum (AAB), is the city’s most loved and read digital media source.
Nestled cosily in a less remembered corner of the world is a little town that has always been a wonderful place to live, a town blessed with the best elements of weather, wonderfully contented people, lovely educational institutions, arts, creativity, culture, food, and everything that just seems so blessed. It is a town that’s waking up to its potential, opening doors for others to make it their home and conquering its own share of issues and limitations,
says Uday, fondly talking about Belagavi, the town-turned-city he was born and brought up in and which he now writes about.
Belagavi is one of Karnataka’s oldest towns and is approximately 500km away from three of India’s largest cities — Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Mumbai — and a few hundred kilometres from the coastal state of Goa. It would be safe to call it a melting pot of cultures. A majority of the city’s youth, after studying in one of the many illustrious educational institutions, generally move out of Belagavi to bigger cities and newer countries, either for higher education or in search of jobs. But the urge to stay connected is strong and hence, All About Belgaum has become an integral part of their lives.
There is so much I haven't seen. I have reported about it but have not personally seen it.
With every story, Uday’s desire to report current happenings and unravel the unknown ones is only growing. But how did it all begin?
As he was growing up, Uday had always had a flair for computers and recalls learning dBase on the computer his brother used to play games on. He went on to study BBA at Gogte College of Commerce, one of the oldest educational institutions in the city. He then joined his father who owned a Bombay Dyeing franchise, and a couple of years later, started designing websites with friends who were running a cyber cafe. It was around this time that he designed ‘Belgaumhelpline.com’ a portal for listing with news as an add-on.
“My friends could not cope with technology and I could not take out time from my business; hence it died in its infancy.”
Although Belgaumhelpline.com had to be discontinued, Uday was keen on sharing information about the city to people spread across the globe. In 2007, Uday started writing on Blogger with no expectations whatsoever; he did it out of pure love and passion.
When my first blog went live, my brother and I were the only readers,
Today, the website has regular readers from 89 countries and gets 10,000 pageviews a day. All About Belgaum has also built a strong community of over 1,28,000 highly interactive followers on Facebook. During occasions such as the Vishwa Kannada Sammelan being held in Belagavi, the site sees as many as 1,15,000 page views. So how did Uday achieve so much in such little time?
Content is king. I always try to search the web for stories related to the city and have showcased news even before the local media could follow it up. Giving regular, unbiased, and good content is important and I have always tried to do that. AAB’s popularity grew by word of mouth.
Apart from looking for interesting stories and news on the ground, Uday also makes use of the internet for latest updates.
I read and search about Belagavi to such an extent that Google gets pissed off sometimes and asks for captcha for search. But anything for a unique story,
says a determined Uday .
Although they may have started out as mere readers, AAB’s followers have now become highly invested in the site, something that is extremely difficult to achieve in today’s time of very short attention spans.
Earlier, there were days when I didn’t post anything as I felt there was nothing worthy of telling the world, but now there are compulsions. I still remember an instance in 2012 when I had not updated the blog for a week and I got four emails from USA, UAE, Germany, and Australia asking me if something was wrong and if I needed any funding to keep the site running.
But it is not always only about reporting or telling unique stories when you are operating a highly influential website in a city that sees frequent upheavals owing to border disputes and communal disharmony. Although the site sees heavy traffic on such days of breaking news, Uday has taken extra care to ensure that all views are neutral and never provocative.
A community blog must be unbiased on all grounds. Sometimes not posting a particular event or even showcasing an event can hurt sentiments. I have been labelled biased on many occasions but the ones who accused me never read the blog in entirety. People set expectations and when you don’t live up to them, they get angry with you. Irrespective of what people have to say, I have always tried to maintain an unbiased tone, with some limitations, of course.
Apart from reporting responsibly, Uday has also used the power of AAB to bring about changes through campaigns about issues that affect the lives of the locals on a daily basis. One such campaign was the highly successful ‘Belgaum mein auto ka meter down karo’. Started in 2008, the campaign has tasted many temporary successes with the RTO introducing the meter rule off and on. Although there has not been a permanent solution, the community of 10,000 people has sent memorandums, spoken to the authorities, and filed RTIs. Uday also works on numerous smaller campaigns to bring about changes in the city.
A completely bootstrapped passion project, AAB now makes an annual revenue of Rs 3 lakh and has two content contributors apart from Uday, who do it only for the love of the city and the website.
“I have not monetised this vigorously. I just take ads as and when they come to me. I don't approach anyone voluntarily.”
But Uday is never short on awards, accolades, and most importantly, love.
He was conferred the ’Emerging Talent’ award by the Karnataka Lingayat Education (KLE) Society’s college for business administration at their annual convocation and ‘Best media coverage of Belgaum’ by The People’s Education Society.
My father always wondered why I spent so much time typing something on the computer. But when I gave him the first cheque of the advertisement and showed him the comments by people he knew that were speaking highly of me, he was overjoyed. He now tells his friends with pride that his son runs a successful website.
“Struggles? Challenges? What are you talking about?” he asks, adding,
Well, when one has a passion one always makes time for it. I have walked, jumped, rallied, gatecrashed, and fallen into pits to get photos along with friends who fell for my passion. I have been managing both my business and blog, juggling between the cash counter and workstation. It has now become a habit. It does get confusing sometimes when the flow is broken when I am writing a special story but am now used to it.
And thus, he makes sure that no matter what corner of the world you are in, there is a story about Belagavi waiting to be read which brings back all your memories and makes you feel at home.
Everybody loves their hometown. There is an umbilical connection with the hometown which cannot be written down in words.