Seniors Become Social Media ‘Granfluencers’ During India’s Lockdown

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May 10, 2021

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( MUMBAI, India) — Posing with wads of fake cash, sporting colorful outfits and dancing to her own beat, Kamlesh Srichand Asrani, 74, puts her humor on display across her Instagram page. Asrani, also known as Nani  (Hindi for grandmother), lives in Chennai, India. With comments like ‘I love you Nani!’ and ‘boss lady!’, Nani is a “granfluencer” in the making.

Her granddaughter Sonia Luthria, 35, is based in New York City and created the Instagram account as a way to bridge the generational gap between the two of them while staying in touch during the pandemic.

“I started @nani_knows_best as a way to get closer to my grandmother, who I was intimidated by,” Luthria told The Click. “But then I realized how hilarious she was, and I wanted to show people what I missed out on seeing: her incredible sense of humor and resilience.” While Luthria runs the account, it’s Nani’s voice and persona that makes her page shine. 

As the coronavirus crisis continues, bringing India into a terrifying second wave, many senior citizens have turned to the power of social media to stay connected during lockdowns and to take their narratives into their own hands. In the process, they have become what’s popularly known as “granfluencers.”

The BBC reported that granfluencers are on the rise, with many of them wielding considerable online clout. Even brands like Nike, Lululemon, and Altuzarra are tapping granfluencers around the world to market their products to the older generation. 

Luthria, founder of a Mumbai-made hat apparel line called Inshadycompany, said that posting about her grandmother was also a good business move.

“I was visiting Chennai [pre-pandemic] and I took photos of her wearing hats from my line. I saw this playful side of her I hadn’t seen before,” Luthria said. “She didn’t know what Instagram was, but we were both having a good time with it. She’s pretty youthful.”

Nani’s first post on her Instagram account. [Credit: Sonia Luthria]

Luthria says the page lets other people in on her life, too. “My friends wanted to hang out with my grandmother more than me,” she joked.

Accounts like Nani’s show that despite the hardships faced by the elderly during the coronavirus outbreak, not all seniors are suffering. Her Instagram account is a lively one with photos of Nani out to lunch with family and friends, discovering the wonders of an iPhone, and singing along to old Hindi tunes in her signature serious yet whimsical expression.

While her account has little more than 100 followers, her supporters continue to grow. Other popular granfluencer accounts like @Ohauntyj , which has nearly 10,000 followers and features vintage photos of stylish older Indian woman, follow Nani and provide the occasional shoutout.

OVERCOMING HARDSHIPS

The effects of India’s lockdown last year brought to light how seniors were negatively impacted and often overlooked. Leaving the house for essentials like medicine, food, and household basics was not always an option for them.

By law, a person in India is considered a senior citizen at 60 years old. However, in the popular consciousness those 55 and older are usually placed under the category of senior citizens.

The Agewell Foundation, an NGO dedicated to the welfare of the elderly, conducted a survey that showed over 70% of seniors in India had existing medical conditions and feared complications due to the coronavirus. Dia Mirza, an actress and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, posted a video on Twitter last April where she urged her followers to assist the elderly by sending them supplies or calling and messaging them.

“The elderly are the most at risk,” she wrote, “let’s be there for them…” Mirza also encouraged people to pledge their support to online platform Jaagore, which prompted #SaveOurSeniors to trend on Twitter. 

KEEPING IT LOCAL 

With the lockdown in place and everyone stuck at home, technology became a saving grace. In a popular suburb of Western Mumbai called Bandra, many residents turned to social media for support and to find up-to-date information concerning local coronavirus cases.

With its tree-lined streets, famous residents, and coffee shops on every corner, Bandra offers city-dwellers a more casual neighborhood feel. Bandra locals are die-hard fans of their community, especially seniors who have seen the gentrification to the area over the years. Many of these residents found social media to be their best way of staying informed.

Manoj Nayak, who runs the local news site Bandra Info, saw an increase in his DMs during the lockdown. “Everyone was lonely. Social media was our only way to safely connect with each other,” he told The Click.

Nayak was quick to respond to messages and used his page to help others form connections. He created a voluntary Slack channel with a variety of initiatives for participants to get involved in, one that included delivering goods to senior citizens.

Demographics of Instagram followers for Bandra Info. [Credit: Manoj Nayak]

Joanne D’Souza is a long-time Bandra resident and co-founder of Bandra Buzz, a hyperlocal newspaper focused on culture, news, opinion, and more. Although Bandra Buzz has been around for over 10 years, D’Souza felt that having a social media presence was not only important but essential to the newspaper’s survival.

“Our newspaper is family-run, so I took it upon myself to move us online,” she said. “We realized how important it was to stay connected to our community.”

D’Souza wanted to use the newspaper’s Instagram account to uplift the community.

“As the lockdown continued, it became clear that celebrations with loved ones would not be happening anytime soon,” she said. “We had live sessions on our Instagram during Mother’s Day with local singers and dancers performing for our audiences. Even though it was extremely difficult, I found the lockdown to be a positive time for us where new friendships were made and old ones renewed.”

GRANFLUENCING FROM HOME 

Shanthi Ramachandran, 56, went from retired banker to food blogger. With the help of her daughter, Ramachandran set up her Instagram account and began posting pictures of the food she cooked. She also included recipes, healthy food tips, and perfectly staged pictures of her scrumptious meals under the hashtag #shantiskitchen.

A traditional South Indian meal that Ramachandran posted on Mother’s Day. [Credit: Shanthi Ramachandran]

With an Instagram following of over 50,000, Ramachandran has accepted technology as the way forward. “So many seniors are using smartphones and computers,” she said. “Most of them are not shying away from social media during the pandemic. Once you post, you get the hang of it.”

Ramachandran doesn’t feel the pressure to post. She says she finds happiness in encouraging people to stay healthy and interacting with her followers.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people through Instagram,” Ramachandran said. “For example, a high-profile Londonite watched one of my Instagram stories about trying to get funding for three local charities I support. She donated to all three organizations.”

The donation helped fund a solar-plant project and support a cancer institute, Ramachandran said. “It’s amazing what one single post can do,” she said.

Nani, the granfluencer in the making, said she finds the Instagram page her granddaughter made amusing. She is also delighted by the love from fans, especially during the dark days of the pandemic.

“I’ve seen the days of smallpox, polio, cholera, and tuberculosis. But just like those diseases, these days of coronavirus will also pass,” she told The Click.

Nani believes staying physically active, as well as mentally and emotionally upbeat, has helped her cope during the pandemic. While she didn’t understand why Luthria wanted to post videos and pictures of her online, she went along with it because it gave her a chance to spend more time with her granddaughter.

“Sonia told me my Instagram would encourage people to stay positive and happy, so I said ‘Why not?’ The world is going through a very tough time right now. Any amount of amusement and joy can save a person’s life,” she said. 

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