June 10, 2007

NRI parents in the US: A life in slow motion

I have books to read, 24x7 Internet access at home, a collection of movie DVDs, cable subscription to desi TV channels, and 17-month old grandson Siddarth to clown around with. And yet, life in San Ramon, California, isn’t quite like back home in Mysore. It is not that I miss Mysore; it is more that I had expected much more from life in San Ramon. Creature comforts are okay. But there is only so much you can read during the day; only so long you can spend in front of a laptop. You get bored. You lack the stamina to keep pace with a grandson, making you go round and round to the chime of ‘Ring around Rosie’.

I may not lead any more active a life in Mysore. But I rarely find myself on loose ends in India, as I do in the US. Weekdays here can be bit of a drag;feel as if my life is being played out in slow motion. I feel like Siddarth’s toy train running out of battery. Apparently, many other NRI parents face this slow motion syndrome, which is not the same as life led at a leisurely pace.

This is evident from a post I read the other day on the Craigslist by someone from Sunnyvale, who is planning to engage NRI parents in the San Francisco Bay Area in group activities. After an e-mail exchange I learnt that the initiative comes from a public spirited NRI, Sundeep Chauhan, who says he has come across very many NRI parents in their 50s and 60s going through life in the US in relative isolation. Their working sons/daughters are not able to devote much time for them, except in the evenings and weekends. Weekdays of many NRI parents are marked by empty hours of waiting for their kith and kin to come home.

Sundeep attributes the slow-motion syndrome in NRI parents to ‘culture shock’ and the fast-paced working life of others in the family. He reckons that a support group to address the community needs of NRI parents would help them spend their US visit in a more fulfilling manner. Sundeep believes that group activities such as meetings to share ideas and interests with like-minded people and group outings to places of interest during weekdays could help.

This is our sixth visit, of my wife’s and mine, to the US, in as many years. We have seen it all and done all things touristy. At my age (68) doing the sights no longer interest me, though I have fun lazing about, with family on a sunny Sunday afternoon at San Francisco Union Square, over a glass of white wine, trying to keep pace with Siddarth running amok chasing pigeons.

The key is in grabbing as much family time together as possible. As I see it, the only reference point to my US visits is my son and his family. And if I don’t get to spend much time with them, I feel dissatisfied, disappointed, and, at times, defeated. That my son and daughter-in-law are not at hand whenever I feel like a gupshup puts me off-key. What makes it all the more frustrating is that I need to rely on them even for mundane things, such as visiting the local library or a used-books fair.

It took me a few visits to accept the fact that my grown up kith and kin have their own lives to lead. And that I am not the centre of their universe. Realizing this simple but tough-to-accept reality has made life a lot easier for me and, hopefully, for them. For visiting NRI parents, the point is not whether life is more conducive back in India than in the US. It is not an issue of Mysore versus San Ramon. I would like to have it both ways – live in India and also be able to visit often kith and kin in the US. San Ramon, for me, is a strange town where my only reference point is my son and his family.

Another aspect of life in the US for NRI parents has to do with their self-image. They might have been somebody big and important back home - a chief engineer, senior journalist, a chief secretary or a renowned businessmen. When in the US they are having to lead a life of relative isolation and social obscurity. They don’t get the kind of recognition to which they were accustomed back home, even from friends and colleagues of their US-based sons and daughters.

A 70-year-old NRI parent in Palo Alto who was a psychiatrist in a leading Mumbai hospital is quoted in San Jose Mercury News as saying, “In India I was in charge. Now, I don’t do anything; have to ask my daughter for money to go to the barbershop. It’s awkward”.

Reference: Indian Parents Association Yahoo Group.

Cross-filed in Zine5 and Desicritics


Bhamy V. Shenoy said...

Dear Mr. Krishnan,

what you have written reflects more on the kind of life most NRI parents have led in India which is self centered and not oriented towards getting involved in civic problems. If NRI parents in India were involved in such activities, when they visit the US, they quickly find out either of their own or through their children (again if their children take interest in societal problems in the US)that there are many things very interesting and challenging to get involved. The US is a place where every one has an opportunity to do what one wants irrespective of the age. Voluntary groups and NGOs of all kinds offer plenty of opportunities for all kinds of people.

Now with internet, the talnted NRI parents can contribute immensely.

I know you have been able to help me in editing some of my articles even when you were in the US. Many NRI parents may have other talents which they can use. Even transportation problems can be overcome.

What is needed is a will and inclination to contribute to society which has given us so much.

Guru said...

Though I was educated and worked for a time in USA, I did not like the kind of life it offered for settling down. I did not like the kind of people I met in congregations like 'Kallara Koota' sorry 'Kannada Koota' either!!

I know stories of NRI parents who were treated appallingly badly by their grown up offsprings. They were considered as providers of cheap labour. One NRI couple telephoned me years ago to say that
their 'packet money' was not enough , and were ashamed to ask for more.
One major difficulty arises when one of them fall ill and requires hospitalisation. The fear of expenses meant that at one time one of my friend's parents was put on the plane to Bangalore even though she was unfit even to be moved.

For the grown up offsprings, the work life-home life is totally unbalanced and I know many Indian couples who think many times before deciding to start a family and many have no chances of doing so as each arrives at various times in the evening tired. Consultations at
IVF clinics have soared in recent years. But the insurance-driven medical care does not recognise childless anguish as a disease.

Well, the new adage is, man does not live by dollars alone!

Nagarajan said...

Its a very good article, and a darn good picture of how it is to live as an NRI parent. Without too many things to really worry about ,organizing activities with other NRI parents seems to be a good idea.

As some one has already pointed out, you could definitely help/mould aspiring journalists - that might be personally rewarding and helpful for todays youngsters.

svattam66@yahoo.com said...

Great article Sir. Liked your free flow of expression. When are you coming to Mysore?

Sandhya said...

Dear Sir,

I am feeling quite low and disheartened having read your article. While it is no surprise that usually an individual irrespective of age /education /sex craves to be back to the place where he has spent most of his life and learned to live; what is disappointing is that elderly people feeling lonely is true irrespective of the place they are living in.
I am based in Mumbai and know of many people in their mid 50 - 60 years of age and have most of the life's comforts and recognition but are still unhappy with the fact that their own sons and daughters donot have enough time for them.

surrogacy said...

Great Post.....

I found your site on stumbleupon and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

Thanks for sharing....

Joules said...

That is a very interesting perspective. I would fall under the your grown up children category. I am right now perplexed whether to bring my mother in law to us. Both me and my husband work hard as that is probably the only social activity or something that can be considered as a workaholic. Since we don't have kids I am not sure how bringing the parents here would work out.

troubled_DIL said...

Thankyou for writing this article. Helped in getting perspective on how parents feel. The entire situation sucks because it leaves the children feeling guilty and helpless for not being able to be there for parents. Do you have ideas on what children can do to make it better for parents if there are no community activities available. What is the right balance. Should children put there work, career on hold to try to spend more time with parents? What is the rule of the universe.. live for the parents who have raised you and done everything for you or live for you and your children who also need you.

vijay said...

what would you suggest to parent and likewise their kith and kin to do and not to do in US to keep engaged and satisfied.

Anonymous said...

I feel, that the loneliness one feels while on a visit here is something that you could feel even back home,and even though you feel that spending time with your sons/daughters is not enough,how could it be different if they were working in India ?? I think they would have been just as busy!
Another thing about Indian parents is that I wish they could be as independent as the American parents their age. I love the way these parents love to do and try new things irrespective of their age. They do not think that they are 60 something and should now just sit at home.(Very common thinking with Indian Parents)
They are always young at heart,one of the keys to live longer and healthier.
American parents can't wait to start their personal life,as soon as kids are out ,while Indian parents want their kids to be dependent on them forever!
Once out of the nest,let them fly. Of cource keep an eye on them while,but that shouldn't stop you from flying high either:)