Whenever Janaki Subramanyam (not her real name), a 67-year-old widow living alone in a huge house, feels lonely and dejected, she calls Charulatha Nirula. From the moment Charulatha reaches her home till she leaves, Janaki would pour out all her woes, which she could not do with her friends.
To her friends, Janaki appears a contented and successful woman, with her son and daughter well settled in the United States. In front of her friends, she also would act as if she was the most fortunate mother on earth. But alone inside the four walls of her house, she wanted to cry her heart out.
But now, after spending time with Charulatha, Janaki has acquired a spring in her steps, colour on her cheeks, and a twinkle in her eyes. She no longer misses her children as much as she used to earlier. In fact, when her children sent her tickets to visit them in the US, she wanted her new friend and confidante to accompany her!
Charulatha is not a social worker or a conscientious neighbour; she is a professional rendering a service. "I am not doing charity," says Charulatha, explaining her work, "I am being paid to give her company, but I agree that some relationships go beyond profession and money."
Charulatha is the branch manager of yourmaninindia, and Janaki's son paid the company to help make his mother feel less lonely. Thus, Charulatha visits Janaki, hearing her out, helping her, just being with her, and earning her salary, though in this case, the professional relationship did acquire a veneer of friendship.
yourmaninindia is exactly what it says. It is about 'your man in India,' and he (or she) is there to render any service called upon to do so by non-resident Indians.
To register, visit www.yourmaninindia.com while those in the US can also dial toll free 18777835210. Those who register become members of yourmaninindia.
The site has listed close to 500 services that it can offer, but P Sunder, COO, yourmaninindia, insists this number is not exclusive. "Anything is possible with yourmaninindia. That's why we say, 'Ho jaayega' (It will happen). The word impossible is not there in our dictionary," he said.
"It is like Ask Jeeves. We had to bring in a concept that is very Indian. We thought of a lot of names but finally zeroed in on 'yourmaninindia.' We are basically your man in India for anything that you want from India. Though it is a lengthy word to have for a URL, it is easy to remember," he said.
The idea of creating yourmaninindia started rolling in January and was born in April, created by Bharat Planet, a company that has been in existence since 1999. Bharat Planet's initial objective was mainly to build a link between NRIs and their parents back home in India. From a service that was provided to friends and other known people, it soon became a business proposition. The number of customers jumped from 1 to 30,000 in just six months. Unable to manage the huge rise in customers, Bharat Planet tied up with TTK NRI Services, which has a wide network all over India. Thus was born TTK Bharat Planet.
Sunder admitted that the trusted name of TTK helped the business grow. With their business base and experience, TTK has contributed to the nation-wide nature of the service, and yourmaninindia claims it can offer its services in any part of India, no matter how remote.
From April, the firm decided to change its business model. First, they felt the company needed a better name, and TTK Bharat Planet became 'yourmaninindia,' a catchier and less forgettable name. In one-and-a-half months after the service was started, 2,000 more new customers have joined in. This is in addition to the 150,000 customers already with the company.
Sunder pointed out that if an NRI wants some work done in India, the first people he normally contacts are his parents. If they were old, he would have to get in touch with his siblings or friends. But with their busy schedules, they would find it impossible to do errands like getting a birth certificate from the corporation office or check on a house that has been rented out in Chennai. It is here that the services of yourmaninindia fit in, he says.
But it also goes beyond. When a son wanted to compile the writings of his old mother (who was not a well-known writer but was passionate about her writing) in the form of a book and gift it to her, he didn't have any idea how to go about it. He then assigned the task of compiling, editing, and publishing her writings to yourmaninindia. He was able to present the finished volume to his mother soon thereafter.
Finding a long lost friend was another interesting job that yourmaninindia has been asked to do several times. "We would be given just the name of the person and the school in which they had studied together, and believe us or not, we have been successful most of the times," says Sunder proudly.
When an NRI in the US wanted to surprise his parents on their 50th wedding anniversary, he asked yourmaninindia to deliver their favourite karaikudi food from their favourite restaurant in Chennai at their home in a suburb. And yourmaninindia surprised the parents by serving them hot karaikudi food.
The maximum numbers of requests come in to perform tasks like getting degree certificates and birth certificates. Lonely and aged parents are also a major source of worry for the majority of NRIs.
"We get a lot of requests for fixing old age homes for parents," said Sunder, "We also arrange for weekly visits by a female advisor to a parents' home at a mutually agreed upon time, (preferably lasting a couple of hours or more) to serve as a surrogate for absent family members, and provide companionship, boost morale, do minor troubleshooting and, and to act as a liaison with the office to arrange more extensive support services as and when the need arises. They also deal with payment of utility bills and bank errands as necessary," he said.
Sunder narrated an incident of a tenant fleecing an NRI of a lot of money under the pretext of taking care of the medical needs of his 90-year-old father. To his shock, he came to know after a few months that his father had been pushed to a single room in their huge ancestral house and the tenants had appropriated the entire house for themselves. The NRI son, feeling angry and helpless, contacted yourmaninindia, which successfully evicted the tenant and shifted the aged father to an old age home where he passed away peacefully after six months. yourmaninindia also helped the NRI sell off the ancestral property after his father's death.
"Appreciation for your work comes in the form of more and more requests, and that is the greatest reward we can hope for," says Sunder.
A few interesting tasks performed by yourmaninindia are:
Renovation of property and then finding a suitable tenant, followed by managing the tenant for a client in the Gulf.
Mutation of property in Delhi, inherited by a client who is now an American citizen based in Seattle. Apart from handling all his taxes, investments and even his locker facility, yourmaninindia flew the client's 90-year-old father from Delhi to an old age home in Bangalore.
Obtain a no-objection certificate to help a customer change his visa status from F1 to J1 in the US.
Renew work permits for Indian workers in the Gulf.
Perform religious functions and arrange for pilgrimages.
Arrange for nurses and geriatric care for parents etc.
One of the funniest requests ever received was to deliver 365 packets of Maggi noodles to a woman in Punjab, the fiancée of an NRI. "We told him the packet would be bulky but he insisted he wanted to surprise his fiancée with such a gift!"
Most requests at present come from South Indians, which could be because a large number of South Indians have migrated in recent times, and also because TTK has a better brand value in south India.
"But we are building our network and infrastructure in the north too. We don't decline any order that involves service in any part of India," says Sunder.
Design: Uday Kuckian
Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj