Till their daughter Debnita went abroad to study, Nivedita and Debabrata Chakraborty were the usual snail-mail generation couple who didn't think much about the computer as a communication tool.
Once she did, all that changed. 'We had bought the PC for my husband's office work and the Internet was not used at all. But then, we learnt email and voice-chat ' which we used every day ' and it was goodbye to hand-written letters and ISD calls,' says Nivedita.
The Chakrabortys, in their 60s now, join a growing band of parents taking to tech to keep in touch ' the cheap and instant way ' with children leaving the city to study or to work.
'Unless children head for foreign shores, parents don't seem to be much bothered about these things,' feels Nilanjan Chowdhury, who leaves for a Master's course in developmental studies in London later this month. 'My parents are now thinking of learning how to surf the Net and send emails.'
With Internet access charges free-falling and communication software improving by the version, all that parents need at home is a PC with an Internet connection to make the distance disappear.
Compare that to expensive ISD calls and the slow ' and often unreliable ' postal service, and it's clear why yesterday's generation is saying yes to tomorrow's tech tools.
Also, it's no longer just about penning an email or hearing the voice but even seeing son or daughter at work or play, in real time.
'We don't know if we'll ever be able to visit him there,' say the parents of Ashutosh Ganguly, who is completing his Ph.D in New York. 'It feels great to see him' He even took the camera all around his apartment.' The Gangulys' highlight so far: 'watching snow on New York streets', through Ashutosh's webcam.
For parents yet to take the tech plunge, there's always the friendly neighbourhood cyber caf'. 'I keep Saturday and Sunday afternoons reserved for elderly parents keeping in touch with their children abroad,' says S. Roy, a cyber-cafe owner in Salt Lake. 'They are not comfortable on the computer, so we create their IDs, sit with them and type out their letters (some bring it hand-written and some rattle off on the spot), and once the reply comes, we call them.'
It's a relief for students, too, usually on a tight budget abroad, since Internet access is readily and freely available on most campuses. 'I now have Internet in the PC in my room and stay in touch with my folks and friends in Calcutta through email and instant messenger,' says Diya Gupta, an MA student in Cambridge University, now holidaying in Calcutta. 'I can't remember when I last wrote them a letter.'
If the Net is the way of the world, the SMS suffices ' even for the senior citizen ' if the loved one leaves Calcutta for another city. 'When my daughter went to the US on a scholarship, I learnt how to use the Net, but now that she is in Delhi, I keep in touch via SMS,' says 75-year-old S.S. Dasgupta.