“Dad, I want to go to Europe during spring break. I have saved enough money to pay for it”.
“Is this a sudden plan? How many of you are going?”, I asked the nineteen year old.
“Well, I will be going just by myself. I want to go to Berlin and then Prague. But I want to pay for it myself”
Ummm… payment was not the thing uppermost in my mind. I was probably quiet for a few seconds. Sensing not everything to be in order, she asked again “Are you okay with it?”
“You know mom will have conniptions about this, right?”, I tried avoiding her question directly.
“Yes. But what do you think?”
A few more seconds. Too many thoughts flashed by…
“Yes. I will be okay. Stay safe and make sure you are always in touch with mom and me. I will talk to mom and we will straighten this out”.
“But, I will pay for this dad”.
“I get it.”
Next few days was some hectic planning for the travel. When it comes to travel, I am a confirmed romantic. Nothing gets me more excited than finding out the best way to fly somewhere and where to stay and all that. There is something extremely exciting about planning for a trip – let alone the trip itself.
However, at that moment, when I kept the phone down after talking to Natasha, my mind raced back to an incident thirty five years or so back. I was barely sixteen and had just finished my tenth grade exams and I had a few months of summer vacation at hand.
I had walked up to my mom and said “Mom, I want to go see grandpa”. Grandpa – my mother’s dad – was not keeping particularly well and I had not seen him for a few years. My mom and dad – both of whom worked – had not had much time to visit him either. First, I had the all important tenth grade exams and just before that my grandma (dad’s side) had passed away at our place after suffering from cancer for two years. They had had no time to go check on my grandpa.
My mom immediately dismissed me. “You will go when your uncle goes to visit him”. (uncle being my mother’s brother who lived not too far from us)
“But I want to go by myself”.
“Do you know where your grandfather lives?”
“No. But I know the village name. I can ask my uncle how to go there”.
My grandfather had retired from work and then moved back to his ancestral home in a remote village. I had never ever gone to that village – nor knew how to get there.
“Talk to your dad when he comes back from office”.
I went off to sleep too tired to wait for my dad who was going to finish his late shift and come home that night.
Next day, first thing in the morning, I accosted dad. “Dad, I want to go visit grandpa”
“I just want to. He is not doing well.”
“Is uncle going?”
“No. I want to go by myself”
“Is a friend going with you?”
“No. I can ask Avijit. But I want to go by myself”
“So, you just want to travel by yourself, right?”
“Actually, yes”, I finally sheepishly accepted. I just wanted to make a point that I have traveled by myself. I could have gone to Timbuktu for all I cared. I had come up with the idea of grandpa thinking I would approach mom at her weakest point.
Dad looked at me. And then looked down. Could not have been more than a few seconds. It was eternity for me.
“Dad, please. I will be fine”, I pleaded.
He finally looked up and said – “Okay. I will talk to mom” and then laid down some rules for travel.
“Yes?”, I remember having almost yelled. Completely surprised, I might add.
“I had to get out of home at an earlier age to look for food. You should be able to do this”. And then he repeated the rules – lest I had not heard the first time.
Talking to Natasha over the phone the other day, I finally felt I was with my dad in those silent moments before I said Yes to Natasha. I realized that just like me on this day, he too would have flashed thru some worst case scenarios in his mind that day. These were days without any phone services. And by that I mean – no phone services – forget mobile – no land lines either. There were no Google maps. You just asked people for directions and help.
Once I left home, the only thing that was known was that I was going to return on a particular day. That was one of the rules dad had laid out. I was to be home the morning of the third day from when I left. Another rule, I remember he had for me was to wake up early in the morning to go anywhere. If I did not reach by 3 PM, I had to give up and make the return trip. Those days, there were no hotels – and certainly, even if there were, we could not afford it. (I had spent less than 50 rupees – or about 85 cents in today’s money) in that whole trip.
Somehow, me remembering my dad telling me “You should be able to do this” weighed very heavy during my silent moments with Natasha. I realized that the child had become the father of the man. I was put exactly where I had put my dad.
To finish up the story… Natasha is having a great time in Europe and she is keeping in touch with us multiple times every day.
While I did not have the maturity to realize then what my dad had gone thru mentally, I do now. I have a deeper empathy for the balancing act of all the worst fears and yet being able to let a child grow up that he had to go thru then.
One bus trip, two train rides and another bus trip later, I finally had gotten down at the bus stop close to our house. It was in the morning of the third day, as I was told. My dad was there at the bus stop!!
I now realize that I have never asked him how long had he been waiting at the bus stop (with obviously no information from my side – and heaven knows what he must have gone thru those couple of days). You see, that day I was too busy walking briskly ten feet ahead of him as he followed me – I was too mad that he had embarrassed me in front of our neighbors by coming to pick me up from the bus stop.
Strange are the ways how life reminds you that it works in great arcs …