I have always loved water. The moment I see a waterfall or a stream, it is off with the clothes (Well! Not all of them!) and into the water in a jiffy for me. This idiosyncrasy of mine has lead to fellow-trekkers calling me anything from a Water-rat (on the few occasions when I had shed weight) to a Hippopotamus. Eventually, they settled for a buffalo, since that accommodating animal comes in all sizes and shapes like detergent packs. All these comments were like – er – water of a duck’s back for me and made no impression on my penchant for sullying the water with my presence.
As I said, I love water. Water, unfortunately, did not seem to reciprocate the feeling. Or, maybe, it loved me so much that it could not bear to part with me. Whatever may be the motive, at the slightest opportunity I would be sinking like a stone. This it is that has destroyed all my belief in the educational system. I was told about something called buoyancy at school – it never seemed to work for me.
It is not that I did not try to learn swimming. I did go once to the swimming pool in Neyveli. My friends left me holding the edge and kicking at the water at the 3M end and went off to disport themselves in the deeper end of the pool. Having duly kicked at the water for a quarter of an hour and ‘swum’ around in the 3M end for a few minutes, I knew I had mastered swimming. It was time to try out the 6M portion.
An instant after entering the deeper portion, I knew my belief in my swimming prowess was grossly misplaced. My swimming abilities seemed to work more in the vertical direction than the horizontal. In one of my brief visits to the atmosphere I managed to see the edge of the pool a couple of feet away. Thrashing around in the water like an animal caught in the trap seemed to get me no closer to that haven. Around the time when I had decided that I would be making my home permanently in the water concrete scraped my scalp and I made a desperate clutch at it.
“You do not seem to have learnt anything about swimming”, jeered a friend!
I was indignant. “I know swimming! It is only that when I start moving my hands and feet, I keep going down”
“Ah! So that is what you call ‘swimming’! We normal mortals call it ‘drowning’!”
That probably accounts for the fact that I never ever went for a second swimming lesson. The jeers and catcalls of that day echoed in my mind every time I saw a swimming pool.
I may have developed a phobia for swimming pools but that did not expand to encompass water in all forms. Getting into the water has always been my chief pleasure on treks – particularly the sweaty South Indian treks where the cool flow of water on the body is an indescribable pleasure after a tiring and hot trek.
The rapids on the way up to Sathuragiri are a great pleasure to see as well as to dip in. I was trekking with Vinod in the area and both of us being water-babies we were into the water almost as soon as we sighted the rapids. Vinod, unlike me, swam like a fish and he had taken off into the deep end of a pool of water.
I was at the other end feeling my way gingerly towards the mini-waterfall that was so enticing that I could not resist trying to stand under it. One moment I was in firm ground and the next I was in over my head and spun around by the current. I knew I was probably inches from safe ground but when the water spat me up, I could not see which way it was. The second time up allowed me even lesser time to orient myself before I was back in the loving arms of the water.
It seemed sort of silly to be dying because you were ashamed to call for help. So, the third time round I called, “Vinod!” and I was back under the water. The fourth time all I could manage was, ‘Vi..glug..glug!” and I was back inside.
The fifth time only my eyes were out of the water and I caught a glimpse of Vinod hunting – for me, as it seemed – at his end of the pool! Huh! It is probably a telling comment on me but, instead of having my entire life passing before my eyes, I could only remember the tale of the man who lost a jewel in the forest and hunted for it under the streetlights of his town because the forest would be too dark to search in and, so, he preferred searching for it where there was light! It seemed like Vinod was trying to save me from his end of the pool because it was inconvenient to actually come over to the end where I was drowning.
Vinod did come over and pull me out to safety eventually. I learnt that his rudraksh-mala had fallen in and he was hunting for it. God must have some sort of soft corner for me as he is reputed to have for all fools. Had it taken Vinod a couple more minutes to find his belonging, he would probably have come out triumphantly saying, “Eureka” to me as I peacefully floated by with all my cares drowned in a couple of lungsful of water! Or, worse still, he would have had to save me by giving me the kiss of life. To be kissed by Vinod! Ewww! I would rather be dead! (And, quite possibly, so would he!)
With water’s persistent attempts at translating me to a Higher Reality, you would assume that I stay safely at a distance from any water that is not safely trapped in a bottle. Not so! I still take the same pleasure in jumping into the water at the least provocation. Not for nothing do my friends and relatives doubt my sanity!