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Monday, June 1, 2009

New York City Journal

A Weekend in Manhattan

After a long and difficult flight from Delhi, my weariness melted away as I walked out of the immigration and customs clearance area at JFK. She was standing there, all of 24, a Lower East Side sophisticate and simply gorgeous. She rushed out from under the barrier and hugged me. “Hi Daddy,” she said. Then she took charge. Taxis, hotel check-in, local cell phone and what have you. I’m a very lucky father because both my daughters look after me with the same persnickety concern that I had when I took care of them.

The older one booked my passage to New York, worrying about my aisle seat and my meal preference, which for some reason has been put down in every airline as a “Hindu” special. I had to convince the stewardess that I’d prefer steak and a glass of Merlot. Believe me: the food was really good though the seats were not very comfortable.

The younger daughter took over after I reached JFK. As she shepherded me through the airport, I could see she had changed in the year since I had been with her in New York. Sure, she had been in India in the interim; they always say it is better to see lions in their own habitat. And in her precinct that is the aspirational model for every cool person in the world, she shines and is carelessly sophisticated.

When I was much younger and first came to New York in the company of my friend David Swanson, a native, the city was a dream. He lived in the Village and effortlessly took me to the best, off-the-beaten track restaurants and bars. I loved every minute of the experience in the 1970s. Three decades later, I’m cruising the “hoods” in the Lower East Side with my younger daughter and discovering even cooler places. All fathers should be so lucky.

All these years, I’ve looked after every need of my daughters. Today I count myself fortunate that they take care of me. I can manage on my own of course but there’s a special joy in having competent and caring daughters look after you. I’ve always believed that sophistication came very easily to me. But at brunch last Sunday at a trendy little bistro on the Lower East Side, I ordered a draught beer with my Eggs Benedict where my younger one ordered a Mimosa, champagne and orange juice, with her apple pancake.

The afternoon I arrived, when she broke through the barrier and hugged me, we drove to my hotel. The room was not ready and I was jet-lagged. “Father,” she says to me, “I’ve got the perfect cure.” We checked my bag with the concierge and rode a cab to “The Frying Pan,” a beer and burger place on a barge on the Hudson River on the West Side. There we indulged a couple of beers and what to me was one of the better burgers I’ve had, period.

Later that evening, we checked out the cafes and bars near Union Square, close to where she lived when she enrolled at NYU six years ago. She had made a reservation at a 19th street restaurant called “crafts” but we still had to wait until a table became available. So much for the recession! The restaurant was abuzz; Manhattan at its weekend best. The ambience was great and food to match.

More important, it was a glimpse into my daughter’s world. At age 24, she lives in the trendy Lower East Side and works in edgy SoHo. Her job is also a very 21st century enterprise having to do with the production of interactive multimedia content. The very fact that she landed a satisfying job in the midst of a raging recession seems to have buoyed her confidence. Where half a million people lose their jobs each month, she switched jobs. Deservedly, she is very proud of her new position and excitedly displays her fancy new business card.

As always, the visit proved too short. We spent virtually every minute of my stay together. As I got in the cab to head for the airport, I looked back at her receding figure, waving at me. I heard a song go out of my heart. Amazingly, it wasn’t Ellington or Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong. The lines that reverberated in my head were from a song in the film, "The Sound of Music:"

Somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good…

Daughters are a blessing to begin with but to love them and have them love you back is a fulfillment of the highest order.

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2009