Airport goodbyes and parental anxiety : The Tribune India

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Airport goodbyes and parental anxiety

Airport goodbyes and parental anxiety

File photo

Shankar Gopalkrishnan

SEEING someone off at the airport is never easy. There is a brooding sense of helplessness. Once the person enters the terminal gates, a Lakshman rekha is drawn — you can go thus far and no further.

Compare this with seeing someone off at the railway station. It does not matter whether your daughter is 20 years old and can travel on her own. You get the parental kick that the decision-making is still in your hands. You look for a porter, haggle over the price and follow him to the carriage. You decide where the luggage should go and sit in the coupe till the train is about to move and repeat stone-age instructions: ‘Be careful! And yes, don’t sleep with your head beside the window!’

You wait till the train leaves the station and the back of the last carriage recedes into the distance. The sense of satisfaction is immense and it serves as a counterweight to the inevitable pangs of separation.

An airport, on the other hand, is an imposing and confusing place. Multiple terminals and multiple airlines … you are overawed by the sheer magnitude. Unlike a railway station, where help is ready and handy, the airport largely relies on self-help.

Once a person walks through the terminal gates, it’s as if you are watching a movie. You can watch through the glass walls, but you cannot change the plot. Parental anxiety takes over, scrutinising every move. ‘Did she take back the passport after showing it to that security man? Why is she so distracted?’ You raise your voice, as though your daughter can hear and respond, forgetting that she is a good 150 metres away, behind the sound-proof glass fortress.

‘Why is she lugging the suitcase in that direction where there are no counters? Can’t she ask someone?’ you keep talking to yourself. It is like back-seat driving — you unconsciously apply the brakes, but the car continues to move on.

In the milling crowd inside the terminal, it’s easy to lose track of her. ‘Where did she go now?’ You keep looking around till you spot her. You move around to find a different vantage point with a better view, peering through the glass wall, till a security guard restrains you: ‘Sir, you are obstructing other people.’

In a train journey, you cosy up to co-passengers quickly. At airports, you find different type of people — a non-committal, apathetic, reserved bunch that stays silent and aloof. Maybe the setting does that to people.

The ‘movie’ ends abruptly. Daughter walks off into the distance, takes the escalator and melts into the crowd. She must have checked in successfully, you infer. There is no point in waiting anymore. As you head home, you realise the futility of micromanaging and controlling every detail. You learn to worry less and let go more. A greater cosmic power will protect everyone, including our children. You submit to that power, like a feather submits to the breeze and allows it to be carried to lands new and exotic.

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