America / ARTICLES / India

The Boston Globe: “Reaching out to Indian expatriates through a virtual connection”

The new website looks like Craig’s List: blue text, white background, few photographs. But some search categories are different.

Instead of “casual encounters” and “men seeking men,” there are advertisements for “matrimonial-bride” and “matrimonial-groom.” While Craig’s List offers bikes, cars, and furniture, this site sells gas stations, stores and commercial buildings. Links for “travel” and “immigration” are prominent.

The site, http://www.nrifreead.com (for “non-resident Indian free ad”), was created by an Arlington software developer, Ramesh Nallavolu, who wanted to offer a simple venue for classified advertisements aimed at natives of India who are living outside their home country.

“Since Indians are migrating everywhere across the world, they need help,” said Nallavolu, explaining that his goal is not to make money, but to assist Indian people and small businessmen. “I talk to a lot of my friends and they give me very positive feedback. They say it was a very good idea.”

The site is aimed at vast number of Indians – estimates vary from 17 million, according to the country’s Ministry of External Affairs, to the 30 million cited by other sources – living abroad. More than 2 million natives of India live in the United States, including approximately 66,000 in Massachusetts, based on the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2007.

Nallavolu’s website allows users to select the city or country they want to search. The site now has 20 American cities, including Boston, and several countries that have large Indian populations, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Nallavolu said the first announcement was his own. He posted an ad looking for players for his cricket team.

Although the game is popular in many of Great Britain’s former colonies, including in the Caribbean and Australia, Nallavolu said, the majority of the players in New England are Indian. On his team, for instance, 19 out of 20 members are from South Asia, Nallavolu said. (A couple of cricketers responded to his posting, he said.)

Shiva Vanvala, a University of Massachusetts researcher, posted an announcement looking for a Telugu-speaking travel partner for his 54-year-old mother, who does not speak English.

“British Airways June 22 Boston-London-Hyderabad,” he wrote in the ad placed in the site’s special “traveling companion” section. “She needs help during the flight change over in London.”

His mother, who had been visiting America for six months, was nervous about changing terminals on her own. Vanvala said no one responded to the posting, so he lined up other help at the airport.

A 32-year-old man, saying he was lonely after recently arriving from India, placed an ad looking for single female friends.

“Feeling alone,” he confessed on the site at the end of April. “We can meet during day, evenings, or weekends.”

Rita Shah, president of the India Association of Greater Boston, said she is going to write an announcement because her daughter is looking for a roommate.

When it comes to living with someone, or even buying or selling anything, “it’s easier” to deal with someone who is Indian, she said, because they are more flexible and share the same culture.

“I think it’ll be great because right now I use Craig’s List and . . . you don’t know about the quality of the people and you don’t know if they’re Indian,” she said.

Nallavolu, who moved to America from India 10 years ago, said he spent a couple of months building the website and started e-mailing friends to let them know it exists.

He does not charge users to post ads, he said, but he might consider a fee if the site becomes more popular. If someone wanted their ad to appear on top of a long search result list, they could pay for that, he suggested.

On a recent Monday, the website got 50 hits – most of them from the United States, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and Singapore – but one person logged on from China, Nallavolu said he was surprised to discover.

He said there’s been an increase in the number of daily visits as more people find out about the site.

So why does the world need NRI Free Ad, when there is already Craig’s List?

It might be for the same reason that the South Asian community needs Indian grocery stores despite the existence of Shaw’s and Market Basket.

“Everyone has their own niche,” Nallavolu said.

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