Saturday, June 23, 2007

NRI Parents ’kick-off’ meet: A non-starter?

I was half-hour late for the meet and Sandeep Chauhan, convenor of the Bay Area Indian Parents Association (IPA), was waiting at the parking lot, presumably, wondering if I would make it at all. He had reasons to be concerned because only one other member in our 38-strong Yahoo Group had turned up. The occasion was IPA’s kick-off meet at Santa Clara, California. From the turnout it appeared a non-starter.

Sandeep wasn’t going to admit failure. The three of us pretended as if it was business as usual and went ahead with the meeting, while a less determined lot would have called it off for want of a quorum. However, we had one thing going for us - a family cheer group of two males, three females and the eight-month old Yash, grandson of a founder member, Mr Y K Gupta.

His family and mine sat through the meet, and even participated in the hour-long proceedings. It was a meeting that set a record of sorts. No association or group can claim to have held its constituent meeting with an observer so young as Yash, who endearingly stretched himself out on the table to reach out for the papers, on which Sandeep was recording the minutes. The meet convenor coped with the intervention by bribing the child with a cardboard box for Yash to play with.

Our e-group, no more than three weeks old, comprises a few visiting NRI parents and many concerned NRIs who want to make their parents’ stay in the US an engaging and sociable experience. Mr Gupta echoed the sentiments of many NRI parents when he said that the only reason that brought him and his wife to America was their son and daughter. The Guptas have been here five times, and their stay follows a predictable pattern – excitement of being with their loved young ones for the first few weeks, followed by several weeks, punctuated by yawning activity-gaps when ‘time-pass’ becomes an issue.

The IPA is a social initiative to evolve a support-group approach to the ‘time-pass’ issue. Sandeep suggested periodical weekday neighborhood community lunch at someone’s place or the local park, for visiting NRI parents, at which stay-at-home moms could pool in their home-cooked dishes.

The idea of creating a databank of members was discussed. Someone suggested county-wise directory of NRIs, like the one they once had in Phoenix, Ariz. (no one was sure if it is still being maintained). On our part, it was agreed we should start with a databank of our Yahoo Group. Sandeep raised privacy concerns, involved in online disclosure of postal address and phone numbers of the group members. We settled for collection of bare minimum data such as county of residence, age, areas of interest so that folk living within one another’s easy reach could arrange to have their own ‘do’s’.

As a visiting NRI parent I suggested we mention the city we come from (Mysore). This could give an additional focus of contact among visiting NRI parents; and also help some of them sustain their contacts even after they return to India. On the privacy issue I am among those who believe that transparency is a key pre-requisite for social networking among visiting NRI parents. Of the 38 Yahoo group members I find no more than 11 have chosen to declare online their name, age, and location. I don’t find it encouraging, or even worthwhile, to interact with a bunch of unnamed persons, about whom I know nothing other than ‘encrypted’ e-mail ID.

When I raised this point one of our young friends mentioned spammers, privacy concerns, risk of revealing online one’s name, location and other contact details. I can understand such concerns of a few who may be vulnerable to a threat of harassment. Having been a blogger for some years now I get exposed to spamming, online cranks and hate-mailers. Yet, I haven’t felt the need to adopt a phony online identity.

I can't speak for young working NRIs, but I wonder what privacy concerns visiting NRI parents can have; particularly, in a place where they are unknown and go unsung. The whole point of IPA, I reckon, is to help NRI parents emerge out their social self-exile and engage themselves in meaningful group activities.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritics

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