Human resource executive Poonam Bhatia, 49, has been counting the days to her road trip around Eastern Europe at the end of the month. It will be the first time in a year that her family — she, her banker husband Ashwani, 50, based in Chandigarh; her elder daughter Kanika, 25, based in Gurgaon; and her younger daughter Ipsita, 21, an advertising executive based in the US — will be together.
“For about seven years, ever since the girls finished school, we have each been living in a different city or country,” says Bhatia. “My daughters were in different states in the US for a while, studying, then one went to Germany for a while and the other to Japan. And my husband and I sometimes lived together and sometimes alone in Mumbai and Chandigarh, as our jobs demanded.”
Bhatia likes to call hers a global family, a term that could very well apply to this new-age format.
“I wanted to live and work in New York City, which I believe is the centre of branding and advertising, my chosen career path,” says Ipsita. “Also, I wanted to be in a new place where I could take ownership of and responsibility for my decisions. There are times when I miss my family, but there are other times when, thanks to the many videochatting options available, I sometimes can’t believe how connected our lives have become.”
Sociologist Lakshmi Lingam, deputy director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Hyderabad, says this new-age family format is a result of each member of the traditional family beginning to understand and respect the aspirations, needs and desires of each other and work towards creating enabling relationships.
Lingam also sees this trend as a sign of a greater liberation of women. The key difference, she suggests, is that the wife/mother is following her own path.
“If families and women can imbibe the understanding that women's careers are important, then there will be many more mobile families,” she says. “And then it will be possible for women within a family to make education and career choices that do not tie them down but bond them, though distantly, to the family.”
This is true in the case of the Bhatias.
“I made a conscious decision to stay and work on the same campus as my daughters while they were in school,” says Poonam. “I knew that, soon enough, they would want to leave home and explore the world and I knew I would respect their decision.”
If there is a drawback, she says, it is the endless questions from members of her extended family, who do not understand their arrangement.
“Thankfully, my parents understand our choices,” she says. “But many relatives ask how I let my daughters live so far away, why they don’t want to live with us, etc.”
For the Kanwals too, reunions are a carefully orchestrated annual affair.
This family comprises hospitality executive Nicky, 33, who lives in Norway; her elder sister Navita Damania, 36, a homemaker in Mumbai; her father Ravinder, 65, MD of a Nigeria-based packaging company, and her mother Sneh, 62, a homemaker who divides her time between Lagos and Mumbai.
“We meet in Mumbai once a year, and we go on one family vacation each year,” says Nicky, via e-mail from Oslo. “While each of us has adjusted quite well to the different places where we now live, I do miss being with my family, especially on special occasions and festivals. But the physical distance has made us more determined to spend quality time together whenever possible.”