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