The One Dollar Note
Years ago while looking through my parents’ wedding album, I was surprised to come across a ten dollar note stuck neatly amidst the sepia photographs.
“What’s a 10 dollar note doing in your wedding album?” I asked my mother and she went on to explain that it was a wedding gift from my grand father’s brother who had settled in Miami as a young man and had never returned to India since. He was kept in the loop with the additions and subtractions in the family and since it was the age of snail mail, it was quite a while between each communication. It was also the time when India only featured in world news whenever there was a famine or some natural disaster so my grand Uncle’s memory of India remained a static photograph of the lndia he had left behind. So far removed was he from all his family that he happily sent across a dollar note by post when any nephew or niece got married. That was also the time when we Indians had no use for dollars, least of all someone who never travelled abroad, so my parents did the next best thing they could with the note and kept it in the album as a keepsake!
The Overseas Indian
Travelling overseas has always held an attraction for the brave and adventurous but migrating was quite unheard of in the early 1900s when my grand Uncle crossed the seven seas. Coming from a small town in rural Maharashtra where job opportunities were very few, he preferred to seek his fortune elsewhere. I don’t know if he achieved his ambition but I do know that he became an American citizen, acquired an American wife and lived an American life. Travel in those days was arduous, expensive and time consuming so there was no question of his coming back to see the family thus we never met our “Aunt Helen” or our grand Uncle. I don’t even know if his absence was felt by the family he had left behind or if he missed them, but I do know that gradually the distance between him and his Indian family became larger and larger and his letters fewer and fewer, becoming a mere trickle before they petered out with his passing.
Like a large number of Indian families, many members of my family have gone abroad but the bonds between our us and our overseas cousins have been maintained and even strengthened thanks to technology. Initially we kept in touch through letters by seamail and then air mail and then via long distance telephone calls. Telegrams announced the births of cousins, illnesses of Uncles and imminent visits of grandmas and grandpas. But what truly revolutionized communication between the far flung cousins was the advent of the Personal Computer and the Internet which surmounted all distances with a click.
The other day, while I was having my afternoon tea, I got a photograph of my grandchild playing on the beach, WHILE HE AND HIS FAMILY WERE AT THE BEACH in Goa, on my Android phone! Similarly, last year some from our family attended the wedding of a cousin in the US who had uploaded the ceremony on YouTube so that all of us back home could participate as did the family on another occasion when we watched the Graduation Ceremony that was streamed live and watched a niece get her degree in the US. There are several members of my family that have regular Skype sessions with those overseas so that they are up-to -date and familiar with their goings-on. So the Internet has not only reduced the distance but has also made the interaction more frequent and enriching. Oftentimes, I find that I have a more meaningful exchange of ideas with my daughter through our daily phone call rather than when we actually meet face to face when our interaction is often restricted to what baby has done or not done as we quickly transfer him from my arms to hers.
Skyping Grandpas and WhatsApp Grandmas.
Over the years, grandparent profiles have changed. With many of my generation entering the work force, grandmas are now no longer homemakers familiar only with cooking and cleaning. Many of us through their employment are familiar with technology and have found it easy to transition to this new form of communication but there are others who find it difficult to adapt to this new technology. After several attempts at pestering the others at home to download letters from a grandchild overseas, or to show them the photos uploaded on a web album, many have decided to tackle the computer themselves. All of a sudden we find Grandmas switching over from knitting needles to Computer Classes and Grandpas clicking away on their keyboards.
So today’s granny is no longer found playing Bridge at the Sunset Club or Grandpa scoring birdies on the Golf course, completely ignorant of what is happening in the worlds of their grandchildren. These thoroughly modern grandparents with their iPads and iPhones, Notebooks, Tablets and Dongles can surprise many a grandchild with a Friend request on Face Book or a WhatsApp in the middle of the day. Grandpas and Grandmas can plan holidays online, send off electronic tickets to their grandchildren, send them flowers or cakes via online sites and generally find communicating with grandchildren more satisfying that the conventional mode or telephone or snail mail. 44