Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Learned Swimming with a Death like Experience

I know, if I had asked them, many of my Navodian(Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya) friends would not have allowed me to post this story here, because it was our secret to go for taking the swimming lessons from each others in the Beas River. Although we remained safe, but if any of us would have lost ourselves, it would have been a very big question mark on the security of the children in this boarding school. 

"Aaj chalna hai?" (Shall we go today?), those words were sufficient for me and Suraj(name changed) to understand, what I was asking for. Sky was filled with clouds and only two us, me and Suraj, got ready for our secret "after lunch swimming" practice in the Beas river. Hostels were guarded with the fence wires to restrict the entry and exit. All four hostels were newly constructed and we were the first batch in 6th standard to have directly admitted into them in the year 1998.

As usual winter was cold, and it was year 2002 and month was I think,  either January or February.  Hostels were full of the boys in this after lunch hour 2:00PM to 3:00PM, this was a short period in which students were supposed to take rest in their respective hostels.

Some of us found this hour amazingly perfect to learn and enjoy swimming in Beas, in an unauthorized way. No student was allowed to get out of the campus boundary of our school without the permission of the housemaster but, foolishly and desperately, nearly every day we crossed the boundary wires and competed with each other to be the first one to immerse our head in the water. Today was different because we were only two and it was gloomy.

I think we well understood our reason to go together, I was eager to learn the swimming and he needed a company to go with. He was not aware of the problem he carried with him.
Suarj was a perfect swimmer, who crossed the stretch of the river at the spot with courage, and therefore was eligible to teach me swimming.
After keeping our lunch plate at our respective rooms, two of us descended through the shrubby- single footpath and reached the bank of the wide stretched river. Water touched those banks only in the monsoon season, it was narrow and totally transparent on the winter season. Just when we reached the bank, as usual my stomach got stormed with butterfly feathers. This excitement was my daily tonic for life and thought of learning something new was one of the major reason. Shirt was in my hand and after reaching the spot trouser along with it was kept on the large rocks.

Getting the whole body oiled was advised by many friends so, it was arranged by one of us, otherwise the water could have caused the skin problem. Today was cold and it could take about half an hour to dry our under-wears even in dry Sunny day, so wearing them was out of question, after all we were just 13 years old, and caring about anyone watching us was just illogical.

I was a shy from my primary school days, but there was no one around us except we friends but, yes I can say that a little shyness was still there even in front of the friends. Shyness has no logic, but the logic dominated my shyness with friends. I put my hands on one of the stones half immersed in water for support and pedaled my feet in water which kept my other body floating on water. I was blind if the water splashed on my eyes, and once my head was inside water, I was totally blind.

I had to learn to see in the water, and to float on it without the support of the rocks on shore. Suraj was doing his job, floating on the water, below the water, on this side of river and on that side of river. My progress report at the time was, pedaling for about 3 meters in shallow depths that too with my eyes closed. For safety reason I used to go to the deeper water up to my chest and then confirming the direction of my face to be towards the bank, I started pedaling with hands and feet.

I kept my eyes closed for that pedaling period and opened only when I reached the bank. This time I was standing on a boulder on the river bed, water was touching my throat. I could feel the partial weightlessness in water, my fear of loosing the base was materialized very soon. I don't know exactly if this was my fear or was a blow of water current, but all I could hear now were few bubbles which very soon after about 2 seconds got silent.
I was completely in water from head to toes, which were still finding the base. Hrithik Roshan had played a character in movie "Kaho na pyar hai" who didn't know swimming, and luckily I remembered the scene of his death after getting fell from top of the bridge. Momentarily I felt same way, and enjoyed the moment which has a similarity to a movie character, that entertaining moment gave me little presence of mind and somehow I forgot the fear.

I felt the touch of the bed, instantly I pushed it, and this was enough to reach the top surface of water which I think was about one meter above. I remember "Suraj Bacha" (Save Suraj...) were the words which were to be followed with "mujhe" (me).
Again I was inside, again I enjoyed the scene from the movie, felt like Hrithik Roshan drowning in water. Luckily the bed was not so deep here, I again pushed and this time, I was escorted by a hand towards the bank. My eyes were closed from the first moment I was in the water. Suraj struggled with my fear and dragged me to a shallower depth. I was still blind, and again walked into the depths thinking to be walking myself towards the bank.
I feel ashamed of my stupidity and inability but at that time, my friend acted wisely. He kicked me back towards the bank and once again I opened my eyes. I was saved from the completion of that horrible scene. I was alive!

Today when I think of that event, I remember it as my another birth or as a rebirth. Suraj never spoke about this event and neither did I to anyone other than to our friend circle because, it could have resulted in punishment for both of us.
Next day was sooner to arrive with another adventure, specifically for me. At the same hour, today we were larger in number and there were many swimmers who saw me with a sudden progress. I didn't vow to never swim again but, inversely, I was more determined to cross the river. Miraculously I started to open my eyes while swimming, I found myself filled with a sudden courage. I declared that I will cross the river today itself but, a moment later I feared that I have declared something stupid.

But the way I said it, was powerful enough to give me an edging confidence and also confidence to my friends to believe in me. One of them, carried my trouser to other bank of the river and shouted "tu ise khud leke jayega"(You will carry it back by yourself".
I think he was challenging me because he believed in me, and he wanted me to win this challenge. For the first time, I went on the top of that big rock, from where they use to dive deeper into water to get sufficient pace to reach the other side of the bank. I dived wrong, with a flat stomach and got a little hurt but there was no way back.
I was already on the part of river where stopping was equal to death. I reached other bank and looked back towards the rock from where I dived. I was filled with joy and worry at the same time. Joy of reaching that bank and worry for way back. This was not a wide stretch, only about 20 meters but was deeper so was dangerous for me.

I smiled at my friends while standing on that slippery rock and then I again collected my mind, to prepare it for the way back. Somehow it was easy for me, and from that day water was something different for me. Sooner, I learned to open eyes inside the water and swimming under the water was a new found joy for me.
This event is one such memory of my life which, I will remember till my last breadth, and I think the last breadth of my life will have the same feelings as were at that moment, one meter below water surface. I have lost the fear of death because I think I have seen it. I enjoyed it and I live with it.

Note: This is my personal story so does not apply to every Navodian but surely there are few like me. There are others too who followed the rules completely and was good for them. So, Navodaya is not only about such events, there is more to gain from these Schools and surely I also have gained a lot. I shared this event because this was linked with my life and this blog is dedicated to me only. So, please with this story if you want to judge anyone, judge me only, not anyone else.