It was with a heavy heart that I boarded the United Airlines flight in fall 2012. I was returning home from the US, alone, leaving Tanvi, my daughter, to begin school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
The last two weeks had been hectic: settling down in the apartment, completing formalities at the University, browsing stores in neighboring Walnut Street, exploring the city with its quaint bridges over the rivers… The day I left, we had a typical American lunch at our favorite diner ~ burgers and fries with Coke. For a mother-daughter pair who chat all the time, both of us were unusually quiet… Soon I was boarding the blue Shuttle for the airport and Tanvi was waving me goodbye. As I turned my head to look back at her, a blinding thought flashed through my mind: Today. Today, I am cutting the umbilical cord. She is on her own now.
I cannot say I was sad. There was no reason to be sad; rather, all the more to be happy. Our daughter was moving on to a new phase in life, an important milestone for the family. Yet, I sat at the shuttle window, silently. I could hear others chatting around me but felt no inclination to join them… At the airport, I sat, reading, waiting for my flight to be announced.
The flight was quite empty. There was only one person at the window seat. I settled down comfortably for the short flight to New York from where I would take an Air India flight to New Delhi.
I noticed her when the air hostess came with the drinks. The girl at the window seat, a young American about my daughter’s age. She had been sleeping fitfully since take off… now, she looked at the drinks trolley and refused. Something in her expression made me ask, “Would you like a drink?”
“Do I have to pay?” Obviously it was her first flight abroad. As we got talking, I learned that she was going to France for a two year course in the Arts. The first time away from family. The first time in a new country.
Instinctively, I warmed to her. The uncertainty I had sensed in her came to the fore as we chatted. New school with unknown people… how much time would it take for her to settle? She wondered. I realized the extent of her insecurity when she showed me the address she would be staying at, uncertain how she would reach it… I was glad I could guide her. We chatted all the way to New York becoming more and more animated as we talked about our families and our countries, her education, her Arts course in France, her career prospects…
I could see her tension ebbing as we spoke; for my part, I was surprised how easily I had come out of my melancholia, how soon my dejection had disappeared. Helping her, a girl embarking on a journey abroad just like my daughter, even in a small way, had been oddly comforting.
At JFK, I caught sight of her as she walked towards her gate, quite confidently I thought. Turning, I moved towards mine, a warm glow around my heart, happy and secure in the feeling that my daughter would be just fine.