Close Relations

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(Bob Hambly/New York Times)

Growing up, I remember the three-ring circus that ensued—on both ends—whenever my family placed a call to our relatives in India. My parents would ping around the house like unmoored marionettes, herding my brother and I into the kitchen, and we would take turns yelping greetings and endearments into the phone. It was always difficult to hear what was being said on the other line, located in the apartment of my grandparents’ downstairs neighbors. Crackly and halting, you could make out, if you really tried, what was being said, and occasionally, if you were extra lucky, who was saying it. Telling riddles, as I was often requested to do, was a totally doomed idea.

Now, of course, the world has gotten juiced up on instant communication. My grandmothers peck out emails in Tamil and are crazy for forwards, and if I log into Skype, my computer speakers explode with calls from my relatives, all of them crystal-clear and eerily similar to talking to them in person.

“Relative Distance,” Rishi Reddi’s piece in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, deals with the same phenomenon. In it, Reddi chronicles her grandmother’s visit to her home in Boston, and how the visit brings the two of them closer together: she discusses how she, like many grown NRIs, has until now inhabited an amorphous middle ground with someone she loves intimately but rarely sees. She also touches towards the end on how the expanded abilities of communications technology have changed the preciousness of being able to contact distant family members, but notes that the limitations of geography remain.

has featured Reddi before, in Good Fortune, a profile that ran in our May issue, and in an April post on The Daily.

June 7, 2007
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