She was nervous, and scared. The usual pre-examination jitters mixed with the almost painful excitement of her first excursion away from hometown for career, her first step towards ‘being on her own’. She had appeared for quite a few pre-medical tests in the last months, but all of them had centers in her city itself. This was her first exam in Delhi.

School had just ended, and with that, an era. The last few years had been confusing. Surely, she wasn’t a child anymore, but the elders treated her like one. She longed to move out of her home for college, survive it magnificently, and show them how ‘grown-up’ she was. She had waited for the school to get over and had worked hard to be able to design her life on her own terms. Her outstanding grades and an interest in Biology had made Medical education an obvious choice. She might need to drop a year to get a good rank in the entrance tests, but the coaching would be in another city too. So in a way, this was her moment.

She suddenly became aware of her father’s arm around her shoulders. He told her that they had to get down at the next station – Rajiv Chowk, and take another train on the Yellow Line. While getting out, the crowd at Rajiv Chowk station was overwhelming. Her father’s hand found hers amidst the crowd and steered her through that madness. He asked a couple of boys about the directions and a few moments later they were being automatically steered down the stairs by the crowd towards a metro train, whose doors had just closed after a lot of desperate effort.

The display above showed another train in two minutes. Her hand was still in her father’s. She had known that there was a ‘ladies’ coach on the front end and in keeping with her ‘plan for independence’, she had already convinced her dad that she would take over from here, alone. Anticipation is always so different from realization. Her heart was pounding against her chest, so badly that she could almost hear it through the noise of the incoming metro. But she had to do it.

She signaled her father that she would proceed from here.

He asked, “Are you sure?”

She said, “Yes Papa, I’ll be fine.”

“All the best, beta.”

“Thanks”, she said, briefly meeting his eyes, while he reluctantly let go of her hand.

The father stood in his spot for a while and watched her go. His little princess, in a big, harsh world. It broke his heart to leave her alone to deal with it. He knew it was important for her life. But he had been there to protect her all this time. How could he suddenly not care?

With heavy steps and a heavy heart he exited the station and took an auto to a nearby hotel, prepared to sleep through the longest five hours of his life. Her little bird was sprouting wings. He will have to let her fly.


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