Ring the door bell of 59-year-old Padmaja Raj’s Bangalore house on a Saturday evening and you’ll be interrupting a story telling session. That’s when Padmaja tells stories to her 10-year-old grandchild, so that her daughter’s free to fix dinner in the kitchen. It sounds like regular grandparent stuff, but, the catch is that Padmaja’s telling her stories over Skype. She’s just one of a growing tribe of senior citizens in India who have learnt to draw smileys, use search engines and handle accounts on social networks just to keep in touch with migrating children.
While granny’s in Bangalore, her grandkid is hundreds of miles away in Kuala Lumpur. Padmaja had never used a computer till eight years back, now she is on Facebook. When her daughter got married and left for KL, she learnt out of necessity because it was a good way to keep in touch.
A huge percentage of young Indians are migrating across the world in search of better opportunities, leaving aging parents behind and social networking sites are playing a vital role in keeping these families together.
Retired Colonel Hari Patil, 70, has a Facebook account. He didn’t know how type or use a computer till a few years back but learnt after both his daughters migrated to the US. Learning was not easy. He got typing lesson software on a visit to US and admits that he used to get stuck often when he opened the internet.
“I would wait for my daughter or son in law to come home and tell me what to do,” he says.
Now, back in Kolhapur, a small town in Maharashtra, he uses the social network to look at pictures posted by his children, check out what his grandson is doing in school and to send birthday greetings. He has even learnt to download pictures from his camera and post them on his profile page.
Meanwhile, almost every evening, in the small town of Kotdwar in the foothills of Garhwal, Maya Pathak, 59, makes sure she returns from her evening walk along the river with her Lhasa Apso Losty by 8 pm. She then sits down at her desktop to check mail, read interesting forwards and chat with her two children if she can catch them on Facebook. She admits life was lonely after she lost her husband some years back. But her son got her a computer soon after he left to join the Army.
“I learnt to use it; got a broadband connection and now I don’t know how time passes,” she says. In her sleepy two-horse town, there aren’t many in her age bracket that are computer literate. A retired Deputy Inspector General is her only Facebook friend in the older age group.
“Most of my Facebook friends are young children – nephews, nieces, kids of friends. Chatting with them is a good way to feel young,” she smiles.
For the West, social networking sites might just be another step forward but for older Indians it is a big leap. Most didn’t have any exposure to computers or the internet till a few years back. Many still don’t have a computer in the house.