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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Finding Nemo

Disclaimer: With this post, comes an end to the "Alive is Awesome" blog series. Also comes the realization that I have ended up writing 8 posts about my bathing, and I wonder how disconcerting that must be, for readers to visualize. Oh please, don't nod your heads so vigorously you… I look quite the Adonis when I have erm stripped to my essentials. Anyway, let’s not bare out such sensitive information here, what I meant to do was thank Cinthol and their creative team for letting us all be part of this experience, they have now given me enough Cinthols to last me for several life times. My bai looks quite shocked to see the pile of soaps and other Cinthol products sitting all over the bathroom shelves, book shelves, kitchen shelves, room shelves. The other goodies, my sister has taken off with, so Cinthol let me know if you want to gift me the Iphone 5, a house, my MBA loan balance amount, and I shall write about my bathing experiences for the next 13 years.  Every day. Post pictures too.

Jokes apart, it’s been a tremendous experience to be part of this campaign. Thank you. 

“Almost there now”, he said to me. He was quite thin, now that I try to visualize how he looked. Jumping up from my perch, I strode across the length of the ship and stared at the mass of land ahead, just like all sea captains do, puffing out their chests and putting on that nonchalant, conservative glimmer in the eyes.

“Land ahoy”, I muttered to the world in general and marched off importantly, leaving the thin fellow wondering why all tourists were consistently obnoxious. But to be fair to me, it seemed like the right thing to say then.

An hour later, I was moving back into the sea, this time on a smaller dingy boat, the waves flying all around. “Oops”, I blurted. It seemed like the right thing to say then. 

This time around I was wearing a scuba suit.

Earlier in the morning when the sun was yet to come out, we had rushed out of our hotel, and run across the jetty, a fine drizzle helping us hasten to the ticket-office.  “Four tickets, Havelock” Murali panted. A couple of hours’ ship ride from Port Blair, Havelock Island is the pride of discovered Andaman.  Its Radhanagar beach has been voted as Asia’s prettiest, a fact that inspired a surge in google clicks. I haven’t traveled the world, but today Havelock is my favourite place to be in. 

Sharp at 1130 am, we were standing inside the scuba diving school.  The floor was only sand, the dining table an upturned canoe.  “Welcome to Havelock” said Angelo, a wide smile rendering him handsome. As he ushered us to his ‘baby’ – a computer that was so ancient that it seemed to have descended from the middle ages –  and showed us a few diving videos, I realized he was one of those men that you could help but instinctively like.  His eyes twinkled as he made fun of you, he’d laugh warmly if you’d give it back to him and he loved what he did – exploring the sea and showing it to the world. I liked Angelo - our curly haired, dark instructor.

“I am not a great swimmer, you know “, I informed him. “Then we’ll have a little more space on the boat while coming back” pat came the reply.

We rushed into the changing rooms and wore our scuba costumes in excitement. A few moments later, we were all standing outside under the sun in one row wearing, in tight, body-hugging bright yellow-and-black suits, looking like a happy menagerie of exotic African animals.

All diving sessions in Havelock are preceded by a short half-hour training stint in shallower waters in the lagoons.  Once we were there, Angelo taught us the basic communication signs we were to use underwater - how to breathe with our mouths and the oxygen mask.  Finally, we set out for our first real deep sea diving experience in the Indian Ocean. Earlier Angelo had told us how it was absolutely safe inside the water and how marine animals never attacked humans. “What’s that deep scar on your leg?” I screamed over the din of the boat’s motor. “Shark,” he yelled back, helpfully. 

When we were in the middle of the ocean, he stopped the dinghy’s motor and asked us to jump into the water. The blue looked ominous. The fact that there were two trainers, each allotted to a set of two divers did not do much for our confidence.

It is hard to describe how one feels once they are inside the ocean. In the initial moments, all I could do was try to try to focus on my breathing. But soon, the corals appeared out of the darkness, and from their insides, flitted fishes in hundreds, and thousands. Puzzled at this sudden human intrusion, they came out of their homes and inspected us, up and down. Conscious, I put my best angle forward, slicing my hand through water hoping they’d form an honourable impression of me. As it goes, they looked quite disgusted with the effort and left soon, their cute bottoms swaying in the water as they glided away.

Spotting an elephant nose fish, I turned to tell Murali and that’s when I noticed that he was frantically showing the thumbs-up - a sign that he immediately wanted to go to the surface. Our trainer was nowhere in sight. Clumsily, I pushed my way towards my teammate, and pulled him to the surface. “Are you alright,” I gasped as we floated on the water, the water up till my nose. “Oh, I just wanted to burp,” said my friend casually.

If I could, I would have wanted to put a dagger through him right then, but keen observation told me that the sea was pulling me away from the coast. On the surface, I was now finding it hard to pull myself back into a swimming position and though I wasn’t under immediate threat of drowning, with every passing second the coast looked more of a distant speck. It didn’t look very macho, I think, to let that sea play with me such. Then just when I decided that enough was enough and only prayers could now save the day, Angelo emerged from the depths of the sea, just like those heroes do at the exact moment, not a second before.

When I splutteringly demanded of his whereabouts, he told me that he was just checking as to how we’d react under duress. I won’t say much about how I felt then, but as we resumed our dive, some of us were cursing while others guffawed. Once inside though, everything changed for everyone, to happiness. Surrealism finds its best example inside an ocean. It is only when you are there that you realize that there is a world, a life that you have never known of and here inside, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed by it. Everywhere around me there were fish in resplendent hues of orange, yellow, purple and a thousand other colours and my heart sang as we walked on the sea bed, putting out our hands gently to just know them, to feel them. Few sports leave you more humbled. If there is an 'Alive is Awesome' moment, it can't be very different from this. 

I stayed that night in Havelock. It was the only time when I lay on the beach for a whole night.  The next evening, as we left the island, we stood at the deck and stared affectionately at the shore for some time. Somewhere in the water, a little clown fish was telling its father, “Ooooo dad, you know I saw humans today! Isn’t that cool?!”
More from the Series,

7) A Fishy Affair - Part 2
6) A Fishy Affair - Part 1
3) The Merry Adventures of Hector Narayanan