Gollapudi Venkata Subba Rao
Technically it was still Trump administered America when I landed in Liberty International airport, Newark, on the morning of 20th January 2021. My daughter had done ‘Masters’ from an Ivy League University the previous year and none of us could attend the graduation ceremony due to the pandemic. Since then she had found employment and has been a resident in United States. Armed with my Covid19 ‘Negative’ report, I walked briskly towards the immigration counter after the 16-hour nonstop long-haul flight from Mumbai. The Immigration officer peered into my documents and raised his head slowly to study me. I thrust the report.
‘Covid…’ I tried to say.
‘Not needed…’ He dismissed it with nonchalance that came out of boredom.
‘So, what brings you here?’
‘My daughter!’ I replied spiritedly.
‘Huh!’ he let out a grunt.
‘She’s an Architect and works here’ I explained but found myself staring at a blank face.
‘She’s been away for too long, you know…’ I began. ‘I intend to spend a few weeks with her. I missed…’ It was a struggle to find the right expression to convey the universal father-daughter bond of love.
‘Really!?’ he shot back not impressed by my melodrama neither convinced with the motive to undertake 13400 Km journey.
‘What’s she doing here? Digging New York?’ he mocked.
Did he mistake‘Architect’as in‘Archeologist’? ‘Salvaging your economy from the ruins dude!’ I was tempted to say but restrained. Signaling the end of the brief interview, he stamped and returned my passport.
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‘Thank you’ I muttered with a contrived smile and moved on wondering what’s wrong in my cause.
Next couple of weeks went by with my little Princess during which she introduced me to her mates from University and hostel. Full of life they ‘all seemed an extension of my immediate family. Hearing about their dreams for future and buoyed up refreshing perspectives, paternal love enveloped me. Instructions, caution from their respective parents based in different continents thousands of miles away like me, were exactly the same as mine to my girl! ‘No Subway travel after 7 PM, Strict no for walk around the blocks alone, vigil on personal safety all times, license for liberal use of add on credit card etc.
I asked a youngster from Delhi amidst them, ‘what do you like the most about America? And what’s not so good here?’ The aspiring investment banker paused momentarily.
‘Here the system gives me the freedom, opportunity to work on my dreams and not worry about issues that are beyond my control. The underlining message is clear, you concentrate on how best to better your life. Leave the social and governing issues for us to handle’ he articulated with remarkable clarity of thought.
‘And the opposite?’ I prodded.
‘What you’re doing here!?’ he quipped. ‘Familial bonds, love and support for kith and kin are restricted to ‘Thanksgiving weekend’ only. Rest of the year you’re alone fighting own battles. Here, seldom would parents travel across the globe to visit a daughter or son. I miss my family’ he summed up with a touch of melancholy.
‘Cheer up kid’ I patted his shoulder and shook him, ‘life isn’t too bad.’
A week later it was time for me to go home. I knew all along that it was going to be tough. Tingling shock waves struck my heart from time to time leaving behind a burning sensation.
‘Don’t make it more difficult than it already is’ she rebuked.
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‘Can’t handle see off at the airport. It’ll be bye-bye here only,’ I stressed. She agreed and called for an Uber. Deafening silence in the elevator as we rode down to the cab. She quietly helped me load my bags. I planted a kiss on her forehead, gave her a hug and got into the car hiding my eyes welling up.
A burly African-American was at the wheel playing discordant music on the cab stereo. Lost in my own world of sadness, I sat in the rear staring out of window. I was already missing her. I drew out my mobile to call and realized it was dead! Discovered the pre-paid plan had just expired.
‘What cruel timing…?’ I lamented as tears cascaded down my face. Minutes rolled by as the cab sped past tunnels on Freeways towards the airport.
Suddenly the driver’s mobile came alive.
‘Can I have a word with my dad?’ my daughter asked him on speaker phone. He stopped the music.
‘Go ahead, he’s listening in’ he said to her.
‘Don’t cry daddy’ she pleaded, ‘We’ll meet soon. I love you, okay…!’ Weighty with emotion, loud and clear, her voice crackled on the speaker piercing my heart. A powerful electric charge ran through the cab jolting its occupants. Rest of the ride was in profound quietness.
At the airport as I was getting off, he asked politely, ‘would you like to have a word with your daughter on my phone?’
‘No thanks’ I mumbled barely audible even to myself.
‘Alright’ he acknowledged in a disappointed deportment and unloaded bags from the boot. Just after I turned towards ‘Departures,’ I heard him again.
‘Come back soon man… Daddy’s girl will be waiting’ the big cab driver reminded me.