Nothing disheartens a student more than being denied a medical seat, despite assiduous preparation. Yet, when a window is closed, God opens a door. Rajasthan’s BITS Pilani, far away from Chennai, welcomed my disgruntled daughter, where only merit mattered. I could not count the number of stars in her eyes when she heard she got a seat in that institution.
People felt I should have my head examined for sending a girl fresh from high school to such a far-off place. “Pilani is in the desert with sandstorms in summer and cold winds in winter. Even the lake freezes,” a pessimist grimly threw a wet blanket. But my daughter felt flowers do bloom in the desert.The platform from where the Madras-New Delhi Tamil Nadu Express was to depart resembled a scout jamboree. Boys and girls with backpacks, shepherded by anxious parents, made enough din locating their compartments and berths.
A thundering whoop of joy from the teenagers shook the compartment as the train pulled out. Having wolves in the stomachs, dinner packets were soon opened, the mothers assisting them. Idlis, dosas, puris and tamarind rice soon vanished before one could say pisaindha thayir sadham. The beddings were unrolled and the young travellers scrambled into their berths, to talk, not to sleep, the parents granted their ‘berth-rights’ of middle and lower berths where they tossed and turned, a worry tormenting them.
At Delhi, the entourage hurried to the Inter State Bus Terminus to board the bus to Pilani. The word ‘bus’ was a terminological inexactitude, akin to calling a turkey a peacock. Nevertheless, it groaned, stalled but moved west, across Rohtak, Bhiwani, Loharu, and ultimately reached Pilani. Many were on the rooftop. At some point, a bleating nanny goat had gained entry. The vehicle was propelled not by the power of the rickety internal combustion engine, but by the will power of the travellers.
Rearranging our rattled bones, we alighted at Pilani. The huge complex that loomed large must have given the students a shiver of thrill. Allotted to the various hostels, our group assembled at the dining hall of Meera Bhawan. Venky, father of my daughter’s friend, suddenly began to sob. “I’m unable to stomach this. I used to feed her. Now look at her, holding a plate for food.”I patted him on the shoulder trying to dispel the sentimental mishmash. “They have begun to stand on their own legs. And chalk out their future. They will grow up. So should we,” I said. He nodded wordlessly, his eyes still wet.