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Friday, June 12, 2009

New England Journal

A Triumph of Family Ties

Providence’s T F Green Airport bills itself as an international airport because it has flights to Canada. Stripped of its pretensions, it is really small and nice regional terminal that serves southern New England and is an alternative to Boston’s chaotic Logan airport. It is in Rhode Island, America’s smallest state, many of whose politicians are serving penal sentences. Despite its corrupt politics, the “Ocean State” is a laid back place, focused historically on fishing and sailing. So much like Goa.

Providence is one of the earliest cities settled in the United States, in 1636. It is a pretty little city settled on the banks of the river of the same name. To live in the city is to have the best of the both worlds: you have all the urban conveniences in a small town environment. Also, as one of the first industrialized cities, Providence boasts of old wealth as well as old immigrant cultures.

Its old wealth is well represented, not least by the Ivy League Brown University but also its playground for the wealthy, Newport, where the truly rich come out to cavort. Two years ago, I went boating in Narragansett Bay, which shelters the Rhode Island coastline from the vagaries of the Atlantic Ocean. Sailing in the bay, I realized that recreation is more fun than mere leisure.

Last month, I arrived there to spend the weekend with my nephew Nikhil, who lives in a Boston suburb, less than an hour from Providence. He met me in the terminal and helped me lug my bags to his car in the parking lot. The pleasant transfer experience stood out in sharp contrast to the chaos at Dabholim airport in Goa, which is India’s Ocean State. The chaos and discomfort of Dabholim is self inflicted. Apart from the inept and corrupt Airports Authority of India that “runs” the airport, there are dyspeptic security staff, officious airline staffers, touts and sloppy, uncaring passengers who pay no need to the demands of civil behavior.

At the T F Green Airport, the experience was as smooth as silk. It was all very civilized. In just a few minutes, we were buckled up in Nikhil’s car and soon, after a pleasant drive, we arrived at his place.

It was my last weekend stateside. And what better way to spend it than with Nikhil and my younger daughter who arrived the same day from New York City. Mind you, there is a significant difference in the years we’ve spent on this planet. Yet we had fun together. The question is: were they just being dutiful? In my own mind, the answer is a resounding no. My nephew and my daughter took the time from their relentlessly busy professional and social lives to spend the time with me.

For all the years I lived in America: making it to the office by eight in the morning and slaving until five pm, I valued my weekends; they were private. It took, as it still does, a superhuman effort to do much more than wake up late, watch television or throw (in those days) a video into the machine and vegetate. Given my near neurotic weekend mindset, I admired the fact that my hardworking daughter, who made the trip from Manhattan, and my equally busy nephew, graciously gave up a lot of much-needed downtime to spend the weekend with me. I loved every minute of it.

Most important, they made me feel warm and fuzzy. Amazingly, we did not go out to any of Boston’s great restaurants but spent the time together at my nephew’s house. When we went out, we went to Boston’s Fan Pier, to savor the flavor of the Volvo Ocean Race. It was breezy and cold but all kinds of fun. We spent a wonderful afternoon at the pier, listening to music, turning up our collar to what Simon and Garfunkel called “the cold and damp.” It was still daylight so our eyes were not stabbed by the flash of any light, neon or otherwise.

The weekend was a revelation. This next generation seems to have the same hunger as I had when I arrived in the US in the early 1970s. Difference is they have several things going for them: they demand things where we took what we got and made the best of it. More important, they feel they belong; no supplication. They lived through the George W Bush era but are really Obama’s children. We were the Woodstock generation with long hair and rock music, full of antipathy to the mainstream. They are the mainstream.

It ended all too soon. Sunday morning, we found ourselves at Boston’s Logan Airport; not to fly but to rent a car. We were heading to JFK, from where I was booked to fly to Delhi. Since 1999, I’ve been doing the road trip between Boston and New York. I know the route well. Plus my daughter, who was the navigator, had her Blackberry that told us instantly the smoothest way. We talked up a storm. She told me about her life in Manhattan and I asked questions, not as a stentorian father but as a curious George. All fathers should have the opportunity.

Eventually, we made it to JFK and took a train from the Hertz parking lot to my terminal. I still had an hour to kill. My plan was to go the lounge and have a glass of wine. But the daughter said she’d hang with me. So we stuck around the concourse until she said she had to leave. As I watched her disappear into the crowd, I sighed and walked into the lounge; there to have the wine.

What a cocktail: full-bodied red wine, rich memories of the weekend, a lump in my throat and misty eyes!

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2009