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Techies’ parents are a lonely lot

Lopamudra Ghatak

Sunday 11 July 2004, by GHATAK*Lopamudra

NEW DELHI, JULY 06 : Shekhar Awasthi had just finished talking to his son Prashant in San Jose. A sense of loneliness gripped the retired defence personnel as he tremblingly put the handset back in its lawful position.

The 31-year-old software engineer, employed with a global IT firm had said that he would not be able to visit him this year. The past year had been especially tough on the retired Wing Commander, after he lost his wife to cancer. Loneliness seemed to have become a mainstay of his existence.

Empty dining tables, unoccupied spaces at home and long distance calls. Incidentally, for most retired folks with children employed as software professionals abroad , the story runs a similar vein.

The past decade has seen the opening up of the IT sector as the country has taken giant strides in developing its own software industry. Smart, well-educated and having oodles of confidence is what has endeared Indian techies to IT biggies across the world . Silicon Valley’s need for more and more workers skilled in information technology led in the 1990s to as many as half the H1B visas for highly skilled workers being given to Indians coming to the United States.

Back home in India, parents have a different tale to tell. While most have pooled in their savings and resources to see their kids become software pros, most are left grappling with a harsh reality. Most battle through bank loans and teething visa problems to realise an emotional vacuum at the end as most are left alone.

My son moved to the Silicon Valley at the peak of IT boom in the late 90’s and he has his own solutions set-up now. His entire life is based there and a decade later he is not in a state to return to India and do his own thing. For his mom and me, it means that we get to see our son and his family every year,” Rajeev Bagchi, a retired PSU servant said.

For most techies, the United States remains the dream destination. Dreams of a bright future with greater exposure and working in an advanced technical environment explains the mad scramble for H1-B and L-1 visas to make a foray into the Silicon Valley. Indian tech brains exported to America add value to the nation by their sheer hard work and diligence.

While bright techies pursue dollar dreams in the land of riches, their parents here continue to fight their own war. Physical dependence is reduced for folks who are in their twilight years and seeking peace and quiet in the sanctuary of their old age. A high incidence of nuclear families has seen the erstwhile joint family kind of support system breaking up. With the breakdown of a traditional social structure, values and ethics have undergone a seachange, as most struggle to blend consumerist culture and conventional values together.

It does get very lonely and sometimes I wish that my technical architect daughter would just come back to India and stay with us. Staying miles apart is a painful experience. But I can’t even coerce her to give it all up and move here as her career is going places there,” Simi Kapoor, a 62-year-old Pune resident said.

Kapoor’s is not a lonely voice. The IT revolution in India has brought about a perceptible change in the way India thinks and behaves. Technical education, high skill proficiency along with high salaries has affected the general standard of living and thinking in the country. Thanks to rising salaries, upward mobility has spiraled northward.

The IT boom has also affected a change in the social structure. Young achievers who don the professional mantle at an early age, end up with high pay packets. Greater disposable incomes of tech workers have beefed up the spending power across the landscape of India.

The exodus of tech workers from the country has seen a new culture weaving in the social milieu. Elderly couples across urban India are fighting daily battles as they seek emotional refuge and mental security. Finances apart, the maintenance of household itself becomes a chore and most crave for physical distances to be dissolved. The mere presence of children often adds moral strength as it instills support and douses all feelings of insecurity.

I see my friends with their kids and I really miss not having mine around. Both my children are software engineers and it is not possible to have both of them home at the same time. But just having one of them around would also mean so much,” Leela Raman,a retired school teacher, said.

Psychologists opine that changing value systems has brought about a tremendous change in the day-to-day existence and families of software professionals are the most affected. While techies moving to the US try to maintain their roots in a cosmopolitan culture, parents try to counter insecurity and hope that their children will be able to strike a balance between modernity and tradition.

See online : The Economic Times


in The Economic Times, Tuesday, July 06, 2004.

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