Monday, September 19, 2016

Look Ma no hands..

I am on a high. Not the usual kind that one derives from smoking weeds or glugging a peg down and neither I have plonked myself on the tenth floor of the umpteenth luxury BHK of Bangalore; it is the high that came from letting a pair of hands go. Yeah, you read it right, but don’t jump to conclusions.

Actually, it all started some 24 years ago. For most kids, their parents enroll them into swimming classes in the summer vacation, and they are eager to go. For many not-so-willing kids, their parents insist. I belonged to the first category. Ever willing to jump into water and want to splash to my heart’s glory. Well, my parents had a different take. My Dad had this clear policy - where household matters were concerned, he wouldn’t interfere unless there was a dire need like life and death kind of situation. So I badgered my Mum. Initially the response was next year, and the next year it was the year after. Then the real excuses started – We live in a city, what’s the need to learn swimming in a city? Hardly any water body around! When I said that all my friends are off to learn swimming and they live in a city too, she said the Salt Lake swimming pool was too far away. Your Dad is out most of the week, I can’t manage so much. The final straw – Ma, you know the World is only one-fourth land and three-fourth water. The rebuttal was the most predictable one – Go and study, that will do you a ‘world’ of good. The truth is, of all the five siblings, she is the only who doesn’t know how to swim. She has an incredible fear towards water, and gradually, over the years she successfully passed the fear to me. I inherited her fear, but my mind still wanted to learn.

And more than a decade passed.

Year 2006: On one my regular walks, I see a huge poster hanging in front of the Koramangala Club: ‘Swimming Batch to start from….’. I promptly go inside, enquire the details. Classes are supposed to start in seven days. I figure out how to manage the time for those two weeks (Swimming class may not be a great excuse to leave early from office, but physiotherapy for an old pain in the ankle is!). I deposit the money, buy all swim-gear…and there I was all set! Well, fate once again had a different plan. Even before I started class, I had a sore throat & feverish sensation, and true to the symptoms, came down with a bad viral infection. I suspect that I tempted fate by lying about that sprained-ankle! All the dreams of being a water-baby gone down the…pool-drain!

Year 2013: I am in Adishakti, Pondicherry set to attend the ‘Source of Performance energy’ workshop. Voice exercises in water is a part of the curriculum. One doesn’t need to know swimming, but the pool is beautiful and the facilitators incredibly patient. I am told, that no one goes back without learning to swim. Well, there are exceptions – I did!

Year 2015: Flameback Lodges, Chikmaglore – After a long time I am back in the pool and of course, apart from throwing my legs in the water, not doing much. But, the old desire starts calling, and the moment I am back I figure out a coach, and there is the apartment pool. My friend Sushma says that he is an old experienced hand in teaching the likes of me. I call him – Our schedules don’t seem to match, but we manage to find a mutually agreeable slot. On the D-day, I find myself in the presence of a lanky boy, needless to say, much younger to me. Sir could not come, so he has sent his most trusted student who is coaching for the past 4 years. I am holding my breath, kicking, floating...all good, but not able to let go of his hand…yeah even on fifth day. Come to think of it, I have never clutched a man’s hand as tightly as I have Sajith’s! The fear ingrained in every cell, doesn’t want to let go of me…it has found a comfortable place to rest. I am about to give up…certain things are just not meant to be. On the sixth day, I am right there, planning a conversation in my head … ‘you know Sajith, this is not working out between the three of us…the water, you and me.’ But I find this beaming man in the pool waiting for me instead, and Sajith standing by, says… “Ma’am, here is Mani Sir”. I have a feeling Sajith gave up on me before I did. After the usual struggle Mani Sir worked magic in that very day… I started floating on my own, as if I was born to float! In his words, he unlocked the door of fear…and I gave up my inheritance.
Some inheritances are meant to be given away. 

When My Mum called to wish me on my birthday a few weeks ago, I broke her the news gently…I was looking for an occasion actually. Her reaction… “Oh my god! Why are you learning to swim?? Pooja, be careful…water is very dangerous” Some things are never meant to change I guess!

These are my Memories of two-decade long struggle to learn to swim. And finally at the end it was much more than picking up a skill. It was about freedom.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


I am close to my Father, Baba as I call him. He is not keeping well for the past few years, and he remains at the top of my mind during the day. I have started noticing that Baba sneaks into most of the conversations I have with my friends and colleagues. Old age is difficult and old age in India is all the more difficult with hardly any social support from the Government. Anyway, I will save my rant about the Government and it’s inadequacies for another day. As I am growing older (I don’t know about being wiser) I am beginning to experience that love is synonymous with worrying. I found it frustrating and never understood it while I was growing up because I never understood the worrying bit; I am beginning to behave like a worrying parent these days; in a way, though not exactly, My Baba and I are going through a role reversal. And I hate it. I want him to be the stronger one. I want that space and zone unchanged. But I know that the roles are changing. It is so difficult to come to terms with it.

Ours is not just an indulgent father-daughter relationship. We bonded over many things, and then we differed too. Politics, football, cinema, books, his love for Liz Taylor (he was aghast when he figured that our neighbour has named his pomeranian ‘Liz’), Marxian theory of class conflict, geography, history, mental mathematics, our diehard belief that Geeta Dutt was far more talented than Lata name a few. We visited Darjeeling with another family, who were our close friends; that was long ago, I was in my teens. We were playing '20 Questions' on famous personalities. Baba & I were in opposite teams. Every time I thought about someone, even before the third question was popped to me, Baba would make a correct guess about who I was thinking. I had to think really hard to out-do him. The other thing which is a glue to our bond is our love for shopping vegetables, fish and mutton. Even now, we go shopping together whenever we get a chance. He taught me how to figure if the brinjal has seeds and the fish is fresh and ask for those particular pieces while buying mutton. The love for such things has gone so much within me, that even today when I visit another city, another country I’d make it a point to visit the local market along with my love for places with historical significance. Yes, over pubs or nightlife.

Everyplace I go, I carry that childhood with me. Baba is not my hero, neither he is my best friend etcetera ...nothing so theatrical. But I know that there is no other soul in the world who wants my happiness and peace as he does. That is the envelope he & I live in. We have all come in this world with a confirmed return ticket. Yet we all live with a purpose, trying to make the most of this life. I ask myself what will be mine when he is no more. There won’t be any.