It’s hard enough for anyone going through a divorce, but for Indian Americans, divorce presents unique challenges, according to Manish Ankola, an IT professional living in the Silicon Valley.
“While divorces in Indian community are becoming rampant and socially accepted, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, most Indian divorces tend to be acrimonious,” he told India-West in a recent interview. “I don’t know what it is — maybe it’s ego, maybe the sense of failure, or frustrations or the feeling of hurt and betrayal, maybe it’s about money — divorce tends to bring out the worst.”
Ankola describes his story as “a textbook-style Desi story” — born and brought up in Mumbai, he attended the city’s Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute and got his first job in the U.S., entered into an arranged marriage and earned a green card in 1995, bought a house, attained U.S. citizenship as his wife earned a master’s degree, had two sons and sent them to topnotch private schools. “I lived the family/married life for 14 years before my marriage blew up in 2010,” he explained.
Ankola was devastated when his marriage ended. Not only was he unfamiliar with the dating scene, both online and in person, but he was trying to figure out how to heal and to help his sons grow up in a positive, family-oriented environment keeping his roots to India intact.
So Ankola founded a Meetup group called “Bay Area Desi Single Parents and Single Agains,” and the experience has turned his life around. The group can be found at http://www.meetup.com/Bay-Area-Desi-Single-Parents-And-Single-Agains.
“The goal of the group is to provide support for one another and help cope with divorce, to live life after divorce the best we can,” he told India-West.
“Most members have been on Shaadi.com and other matrimonial sites. There are a lot of dating sites for singles too, but it’s a difficult world out there for divorcees, especially ones with kids. This group helps members connect with each other and become friends, and their kids become friends; and in all of this, if new relationships develop, it’s a plus.”
The group — which numbered an impressive 123 members as of press time — celebrated its first anniversary Feb. 17 with a dinner at The Menu, a stylish Indian eatery in Mountain View.
iBASPSA, as it’s called, has a busy schedule of events, including concerts, holiday get-togethers (Diwali, Christmas, Easter, you name it), picnics, museum trips and sports events. Some events are all-ages, while others are for adults only; and members are encouraged to take the initiative to create and organize events.
Members must be of Indian origin; must be a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area; and must be legally divorced or separated (or must be living separately and in the process of filing for divorce).
But the group was not founded just so that folks could have fun, said Ankola; members also feel free to talk about the deeper issues as they face what for many is the most painful transition in their lives. They also believe in giving back to the local Bay Area Indian and mainstream communities by volunteering with several nonprofits, he said.
Some members of iBASPSA sent in their comments to India-West about how their lives have changed since becoming involved.
One single mom, a new member, wrote, “I came across this Meetup a couple of months ago when I was going through a difficult time in my life … I enjoy being part of this group now and taking my child along to attend some of the family-friendly activities they organize. Being part of South Asian community, I feel at home within this group and comfortable to reach out to its members knowing that basically, we all share similar values.”
One local dad, who moved to the Bay Area recently, wrote: “In the group, I found people who not only understand being a single parent, but also the nuances of that from the Indian cultural perspective. I think the key to this group’s long term success is to have multiple people show leadership and help schedule and organize events.”
One longtime member noted, “It’s a good mix of single parents from different parts of India, and from different professions.”
Another member wrote, “I am a software engineer, in [my] mid 40's, divorced a year and half back. After divorce, many of my friends sympathizing with our situation invited us during the weekends; however, after some time, get togethers with other families became very difficult and spending weekends and holidays became very tough …
“In the last 6 months since I joined this group, myself and my kids have participated in many of the get-togethers, celebrated Christmas and New Years together, and did picnics and movies. Kids enjoy these events because they have other kids in their age group to play with. Also, seeing other kids in the same boat as they are in, kids feel more secure.”
Not all of iBASPSA’s members are from India; one man who describes himself as an ABCD said, “meeting people, making new friends and seeing kids have fun with each other in divorce is difficult ... this group helped a lot.”
Now, Ankola finds himself busy with a steady stream of activities with friends he expects to keep for life. He’s also gratified to see how one small idea of a Meetup group has had such a powerful chain reaction.
“One of my friends told me (in Punjabi), ‘Karm kar, kue me daal,’ or ‘Do the good deed and throw it in the well. Have no expectations.’ I live by that philosophy!” he told India-West.