** I was supposed to post this in the month of May, but I couldn’t. I haven’t made any changes, it’s the same post with the same references to time**
So this happened a couple of months ago, when I would go swimming almost everyday (don’t ask me why I don’t go now – summer, water shortage, pool shut down) – right in the middle of December 2018. I used to go swimming no matter what the temperature was (my friends would mock me for that too, saying I was crazy enough to swim in such cold water). But I didn’t really care – except for the fact that in the 45 minutes I used to swim, the first 10 minutes were spent only standing and watching the pool, contemplating how cold the water would be when I would actually get inside!
After haais and huis (and threats from the life guard that he would push me in if I didn’t get in right away) I used finally would get into the water. (COLD – FREAKING ICE COLD). And then once I would start off with my laps, the water would get warm and pleasant. And then? Well, yes, getting out would be a huge task!
So it was just another typical Pune winter day, where mornings are super cold, afternoons get warmer and the chill returns out of nowhere in the evening. Let’s focus on the morning part.
I rode to the pool in the morning. Was in there by 9. And like I described, I managed to enter the water after sitting by the pool for 10 minutes. And then I started off with my laps – I swim in the deeper side of the pool, the part where annoying kids and aunties who are learning don’t venture. So basically I have that part all for myself. After a couple of laps, I stopped for some breathing practice (which the lifeguard says is perfect to improve your stamina while swimming). And while I was doing this, I suddenly heard a lady shrieking. She was right in the middle of the pool, drowning. While the lifeguard-cum-coach had an eye on her, he quickly picked the long stick by the pool and held it near her.
But the lady was in a panic mode and just gave up. And as I watched in horror, I could almost see her going down – the water had begun to enter her mouth and in no time she would be drowning. Thankfully the lifeguard had already jumped in, reached her by then and somehow struggled to pull the panicking lady outside the water.
All this happened in just 5 minutes – there was no time for anyone to even grasp what was happening. Especially me, I didn’t even realize the lifeguard had jumped in to rescue the lady because my gaze was fixated in the lady, and flashback scenes rushed back into my mind.
Flashback to May 2005
I was a little kid who learnt swimming in the summer of second grade. Ma and Mamma would accompany us sisters to the pool everyday. We both learnt swimming quickly. After this we returned to the pool in the summer of third grade. And we both were glad that we hadn’t forgotten swimming lessons – we would gleefully swim across the pool, diagonally, horizontally – the distance just didn’t matter. And almost everyday we would try new stunts – like running into the pool and jumping in with closed eyes, diving backwards, going deep down inside the water holding our breath and looking for someone who dropped a hair clip there – we’ve done all the masti.
But on this one particular day, it was somewhere in the beginning of May (I don’t remember the date, but the rest is vivid in my mind), something went wrong. I was swimming as usual – this time right in the middle this huge Olympic Size pool, where all four sides of the pool are far away from immediate access. And as I reached the center of the pool, I don’t know why, but my hands and legs just gave in. I was just not able to beat my hands and legs the way I should have to keep myself afloat. And then I experienced something that makes most people hydrophobic – drowning.
So there I was, an 8 year old, tall for my age but pretty underweight – bundled up there in the middle of the pool with the chlorinated water entering my mouth, gasping for breath, struggling to bring myself back up, slowly shrinking deeper into the water – trying to scream for help but unable to do that either.
I knew I was under the watchful eyes of Ma and Mamma and also that my sister was somewhere around in the pool, but I also knew that apart from screaming that their jigar ka tukda was drowning they couldn’t even do anything more! I really don’t know what thoughts were scurrying in my mind at that moment, but I very well remember giving up and feeling dizzy.
Suddenly out of nowhere I felt someone hold my hand. (Help had arrived, I wasn’t dying, Not today). I could hear a voice in my ears, “Don’t get scared, it’s okay, try to beat your hands and legs”. But I just didn’t, or rather I was too exhausted from the drowning experience. I remember not putting up a struggle or even panicking or hugging my savior (something which people who drown do) as she pulled me towards the poolside . I had given up, given in and had let myself loose – just like a boat without an anchor, drifting away wherever the winds took it.
As I was brought to the poolside – everyone rushed to my side. Ma,Mamma. I could see the bobbing head of my sister – swimming her way towards me. And then of course, the face of my savior – the Aunty with the black swimming cap, black goggles, who also happened to be a national level swimmer in her younger days. (I owe her my life, people)
Fortunately, much damage had not been done – physically I mean. I just coughed out the water and was made to sit by the pool for sometime to calm down. I think I had started to cry, but who could see my tears, I was already dripping with water! But mentally, the damage had been done. I refused to go to the pool the next day. No matter how much they tried explaining me, I just couldn’t stand the thought of going through that horrific experience again. They even tried to tell me that the monthly pass that we’d taken out would go waste – NO. I wasn’t going in again. They gave up. My coach gave up. He didn’t talk to me for a month. And I remember the last statement he uttered – “Don’t show me your face until you get back into the pool. But my jaan was pyaari to me, right? So I spent the next whole week going to pool everyday – not to swim, but to sit by the pool and watch my sister swim. I remember my coach shaking his head in disappointment looking at me.
So I decided to act – I went into the baby pool. Imagine, a kid who was almost three feet in height playing gleefully in a pool that was just one foot deep. Of course, I became the center of mockery there. Earlier, at least coach sir would look at me and shake his head in disappointment – now he refused to even look at me!
I spent almost a month in the baby pool. The entire month of May. I knew I was a laughing stock there – kids younger than me would swim in that huge pool, and here I was – not even fitting inside that pool, but still grinning like an idiot, splashing the water around there!
I don’t know what entered my mind after that month ended though, probably my small brain must have worked up something or got fed up of listening to the jeering, taunts and comments by everyone in the pool.
Aren’t you too big to be in this pool?
You’re still….in this pool?
Paani ka darr gaya nahi ab tak?
While initially I was hesitant, weighing out pros and cons – but I did get back into the pool. While Ma and Mamma may have not said anything, but somewhere at the back of their minds, I knew they were relieved. They knew how to handle this headstrong little kid – just let her have her way for a while until she realizes the goofball she’s being! And I saw that wala smile on their faces – the kind when you know you’ve done something good! And as far as my sister was concerned, more than the fact that she had her swimming partner back, she must have let out a sigh of relief because she would no longer have to listen to the comments “Wo dekh teri behen baby pool mei hai” (Look, your sister is in the baby pool”!.
And of course, my coach – I remember someone calling him outside the office to see that I’d finally got back – to where I was meant to be, to where he put all his efforts in to make sure I would survive. All those smiles – registered in my mind!
Fast forward to the present:
I’m not an exceptional swimmer, still got to work a lot on my stamina. But yes, when the little kids, aunties or even the lifeguards compliment me on how well I swim, I just smile back. I was actually beaming when a little kid in the pool told me, “Didi, you swim like a fish!” There are people who are struggling to learn swimming, and they ask me how is it that I’m not scared of water. I just shrug and tell them – just don’t let the fear of water get into you. Water is buoyant enough to hold you up, it’s the fear that weighs you down. Swim with a free mind, like a lithe fish!
What do I tell them? That I’m the same girl, who ALMOST drowned, ALMOST gave up swimming, is STILL scared to dive headfirst – but has YET not given up? Sometimes I feel I should tell them. But again, I want them to love water – not venture into it with the thought in their minds that even they could drown…
And as far as I’m concerned, this is one story Ma keeps making me hear over again – because this is what you need on days when you’re low, when you feel you’re sinking, when you have no energy and are on the verge of giving up – it’s these incidents which make you believe in yourself again. Make you realize that you’re not made up of anything random, you’re strong and meant to be a fighter.
Somewhere I’m glad it happened,and I’m even more happier I got over it.
Keep in mind – What doesn’t ‘drown’ you is what makes you strong.