Those sad goodbyes

THERE IS a joke that I tell every time I am asked about my date of return after a vacation. “I don’t want to stay for so long that my parents get used to having me around them and my husband gets used to not having me around him.”

By Asha Iyer Kumar (Life)

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Published: Fri 30 Aug 2013, 11:52 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:12 PM

While the latter half of the statement is more tongue in cheek, the part related to my parents is more fact than fiction. Its significance stems from a sentiment that has grown in me over the past few years about the poignant goodbye moment at the airport, which despite its familiarity and frequency is as heart wrenching as ever.

The smiles that lined the arrival gate a few days ago are now morphed into sniffles choking the departure door. Craning necks and teary eyes don’t see much inside the terminal, yet hands wave fervently and hearts merge into a unifying emotion of parting and sadness.

I remember the first time I left home to pursue higher studies after college. Wary about stepping out of home and uncertain about the nature of life and the world outside my cocooned existence, it was a watershed moment in my life. I carried with me a melange of thoughts, partly elated about wriggling out of parental controls and partly concerned about a life beyond their secured wings and cozy nest. I clearly recall the fear that plagued my mind as I boarded the train. I also remember my parents’ faces marked with worry and sorrow as the train chugged off. I must have spent many nights thereafter in tears, home sickness and nostalgia.

A moment of déjà vu occurred many years later when I left their home for good, this time as a married woman. There was an odd certainty about the departure, unlike the first one. I felt something prising me out of their life and putting me on a flight to my future with new relations and responsibilities. I must have spent months thereafter impaired in heart, and longing to be back in their midst. The sheen of marital bliss could not obliterate the ache for home and parents.

Years wore on. Life took me on many circuitous routes and taught me several vital lessons on joys, sorrows and inevitabilities. Visiting home and parents on vacation became part of an annual schedule replete with various duties. At some point down the years, my heart shifted base from my parents’ home to my own to where it longed to return after a few days of retreat. Yet when I left, I felt a stabbing pain of separation that was different from that of the early years.

Now it was not about my sorrow. It was about theirs. Leaving them alone for another year was heart wrenching. I saw them grappling with the agony of having to go back to an empty nest, emptier than before. I had failed to see it when I left them alone first, but there is no mistaking it now. I realized that I had a world to return to, but they had none. We were their world and we were their sun and stars. Without us, they were mere shadows biding their time in the company of solitude. There was a time when they were our emotional crutches. Now, as roles reversed, they held on to us timorously, waiting for us to come and infuse life into their vacuous existence.

I will spend weeks after my vacation in their thoughts, feeling their pain vicariously. I will relive the scenes at the airport — of sons, daughters, grandchildren and husbands carting away loads of love into the terminal, and a sea of heartbroken parents, grandparents, wives and children left behind until another time. The view from their side will be bluer than the one from ours, and their lives murkier till we return.

Asha Iyer Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Dubai

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