Sowmya and Prashant, a couple in their early 30s, live in south Bangalore, and there was a time when “south” meant conservative and traditional, except that, as with so much else in Bangalore, change is edging in.
Ask their daughter, Ahana, not yet 3.
Sowmya works late hours at a multinational bank. Prashant works late hours at an outsourcing company. Their hectic schedules mean that Ahana spends her days at a day care center near their home. Her hours, like those of her parents, run from about 8 in the morning until about 8 in the evening.
But now Sowmya and Prashant have taken another step away from tradition: evening day care. Welcome to the life of Bangalore’s young working couples. When the West outsources work to Bangalore, parents in Bangalore outsource child care.
Sowmya and Prashant, who were willing to speak openly about their family life as long as their last names were not used, made the decision a few months ago, when he was again running late at work, and she had to attend an office party. Flustered by their hectic schedules, Sowmya decided that the couple needed help at night, as well as during the day. So now, whenever her parents have late nights, Ahana goes to a “night care” facility, where she sleeps until her parents arrive to bundle her up and take her home to bed. Sometimes, she doesn’t even wake up.
Not surprisingly, night care has drawn mixed reactions from other, more traditional members of the family.
“My mother freaked on the phone when she heard,” Sowmya recalled.
Her mother’s outburst didn’t necessarily surprise her. At first, Sowmya was wracked by guilt. “The older women in my family are all homemakers, so I carried the load for ‘abandoning’ my child,” she said.
For her part, Ahana, an only child, took to night care easily and is quite happy to have other kids to hang around with.
Within the span of a quarter lifetime or less, women in Bangalore have stepped away from chasing children around the home to chasing work deadlines in different time zones – and, in doing so, chasing after new freedoms. But, as women around the world know too well, chasing both can be complicated.
Sowmya’s mother never had any problems with day care. But as Sowmya’s office parties and the occasional social and theater evenings spilled into late hours, making night care inevitable, her mother was appalled. Perhaps her anger was partly frustration, because she doesn’t live in Bangalore and couldn’t step in herself.
The Great Indian Family is under siege, and the traditional support systems that once held it together are steadily disintegrating in cities like Bangalore.
In Bangalore, many working parents see their kids briefly on weekdays and can really only parent on weekends. Sucheta was one of these women, working as a back office executive at a multinational bank until she quit because of the “crazy” hours.
Instead, she set up Kids Space, one of the city’s few night care facilities.
“I wanted to provide ambitious career women a worry-free option for their kids so they didn’t have to rush back,” Sucheta said.
In Bangalore, the challenges of a 24/7 work cycle dominate lunchtime and coffee break chats amongst Sowmya’s female friends. Like them, many couples they know have moved to Bangalore to build a career. They live in nuclear families. They routinely work 12-hour days.
Babysitting, as understood in the West, where you call in a familiar person to watch your children for an hourly rate in the evening, is an unfamiliar concept in India. Here you have either nannies or live-in help. Yet many people are reluctant to leave small children with nannies at night, and also struggle to find a reliable nanny who can work late into the evening.
Newspapers are full of frightening accounts of those who left small kids with household help. One helper reportedly drugged a 1-year-old and “rented him to beggars.”
Unable to find evening help, some of Somya’s female friends say they feel like prisoners in their own apartments. One woman has not gone to the cinema in four years. Another has not stepped inside a beauty salon for three.
In response, Ratna Jyothi has just begun a novel service at her activity center, The Courtyard, located in the new Whitefield suburb. It is a weekends-only night crèche for “Bangalore’s cool party moms.”
Parents can leave their children from 6 p.m. until the early hours of the next morning, for just 1,250 rupees ($25) per session.
Career moms and homemakers are already inquiring. Your kids will not feel left out if you go out, Ms. Jyothi tells them. Instead, dress them up for their own evening party and bring them to The Courtyard.
“If the mother is always expected to stay home in the evenings, it can lead to all sorts of problems in a marriage,” said Ms. Jyothi, a single parent of a six-year-old herself, who came up for the idea for the business as she analyzed her own break-up.
“Small things add up to a lot, just as they did in my own marriage,” she said.
Not far from Whitefield, behind the gleaming Bagmane Tech Park, Patricia runs a playschool and night care center. Her customers are parents working the graveyard shifts in nearby call centers.
Patricia has two children in her facility, both just over a year old. She charges 4,000 rupees ($80) a month.
Unlike her competition across town, though, she rebuffs parents who have asked to use the service on the odd weekend.
Her service is meant for the “strugglers” who sweat over work and home, and not for those who ditch their children whenever they’re invited to a party, she said.
“I don’t encourage partying types.”