It's 7 p.m. and 67-year-old Chitra Viswanathan logs on to indusladies.com. She receives an urgent personal message from a fellow member of the website, a young woman who is in her kitchen in New Jersey, U.S.with her laptop — "It's boiling! What do I do next?" And so, from Chennai, literally halfway across the world, Chitra talks her through — or rather, messages her through — the rest of the recipe.
It's all in a day's work for Chitra who says she has become a sort of virtual mother figure for young women who have got married and moved far away from home and family. She runs the `Ask ChitVish' cookery and spiritual sub-forums on indusladies.com, an online community and discussion board for Indian women all over the world to share information and provide support to each other.
"You can find help for anything from making kozhukattai to doing Google searches," chuckles Chithra. "There is nothing that cannot be discussed, whether it is how to drape a sari, or where to shop for payals in Bangalore."
Home away from home
Indusladies.com was formed in March 2005 by Malathy Jey, a computer engineer, who got married and moved to Texas, U.S. in 2004, in response to her feelings of isolation and loneliness. "The inability to meet friends and relatives in person made me feel rudderless," she says via email. "While American neighbours are good, I felt the need to reach out to Indian women friends and share my experiences. That's how the idea of indusladies.com was born."
With over 1,800 members from India, the U.K., the U.S., South Africa, Dubai, Singapore and Australia today, the website is not just a resource for Indian women but also a place for forming emotional connections. "Women share their ideas, provide tips, ask and answer questions on beauty, diet, nutrition, cooking, health, wellness, movies, TV programmes, fine arts, pregnancy, parenting, marriage, relationships, career, money matters, religion and spirituality," says Malathy. "And since they engage with each other on a daily basis, they end up forming strong friendships."
The recently introduced local sub-forums allow women to share region-specific information such as recommendations on good gynaecologists, day-care facilities or restaurants, or set up play-groups and plan get-togethers, and aim to further foster these relationships. However, security and safety of the website's members remains a central concern. "We moderate discussions throughout the day and take prompt action when some members violate forum etiquette," says Malathy.
Two years ago, Chitra was scared to touch a computer. Today, she shares over 850 traditional recipes online, and says she has made more friends than she could have imagined through indusladies.com. "I want many women to gain as I have from the existence of such a website," she says.
Extract from The Hindu.