Sunday, May 01, 2011

In cool waters

Hailing from the Southern part of the Indian peninsula, with the land being surrounded by water in the west, south and the east, it should come as a no-brainer that India should have had swimming as the national sport.  We should have been accumulating gold medals in loads of quantities, but then, cricket is the national sport and that's the only sport where we win accolades in multitudes.  Two world cup wins in 35 years of world cup history is no mean achievement!

Hailing from a high school with English as a primary language (just like any school these days in India), my teachers made sure that my interests in sports were limited to not more than a hobby.  That would explain the reason why my friends are upset that I did not improve my cricket beyond my school days.  Maybe, that's the reason why I have never been able to understand that pale expression on their faces when I hold the bat.  So, I have limited myself to outstanding commitment in fielding and nothing more! Allow me to write a post, and the digression extends to the unknown.  As the people born in the sixties would say, coming to the point, this post had to be about the cool waters, activities associated with the blue surface and nothing more.  As my English teachers went through the rigorous routine of teaching us the finer nuances of the grammar, we were put through enormous ordeal to understand the difference between gerund and participle.  So, "swimming" would be the standard noun-verb form to explain us the concept in school.

Swimming is a great exercise. (Here, swimming is a gerund).
I have been swimming a lot. (Here, swimming is a present participle).

So, all that I learned in school about swimming was how "beautifully" it could be used in one of the two forms.  I still don't understand how it has influenced my life or for that matter even my grammar.  But, the bottom line is, I don't know swimming.  I am not sure whether using it as a noun or a verb is going to bestow upon me the much required skill.  

I can't blame my school alone for not influencing my extra curricular activities.  The whole colony of kids would run around with a "rubber" ball and a cricket bat.  That's all we knew.  Anything that was a deviation from cricket was considered to be work.  Even as my mother tried to put me in a swimming class, I used all forms of deviance to avoid it.  I also used to get into those classic middle-high school arguments with my fellow friends, most of them being amateur swimmers.

Praveen, why don't you want to learn swimming?
Why should l learn?

My friends used to present an "exceptional" argument.
Imagine if you are flying over the Indian ocean, and suddenly due to mechanical failures, you had to jump out of the plane.  Then, what will you do?

As usual, I used to come up with the clich├ęd reply.
If that's the case, do you really think you have the power to swim across the Indian ocean.  In any case, you'll die.  Why do you need to put that extra effort before you meet your end?

Such was the level of understanding, that I doubt whether things have changed even after these many years.  I meant the level of understanding.

Anyway, things took a turn for the good, when my friend (in KS, since then has moved to FL and now in CA) told me one day "GK, I have enrolled for swimming classes.  Do you want to join?" I didn't need a second invitation. "Oh cool man, I am in.  Let's go for it." The class was kinda funny in the sense that we were taught swimming for half an hour per week.  You also have to consider the fact that both of us had the stiffest of bodies, and as hard as we tried, we could not get ourselves to float on the water.  We would start swimming as soon as the instructor (who was an old lady who eventually lost hope that we could learn swimming) gave us the go ahead.  We would rotate our arms and push back and forth our legs in such a weird way that it felt as though we were trying our level best to drown ourselves in water.  Till the last class, she did not allow us to go beyond the 3ft mark and there were kids who were swimming in a 12 ft deep area.  Sigh!

As my better half, who is equipped with decent swimming skills, tried to help me get over the fear of depth in water, I felt some hope.  We headed to the KU swimming lanes to get a taste of the water (which is what I got more often than not). I got into a conversation with the life guard there. 

What is the depth of water here?

4 ft

Here? 6 ft

Here? 7 ft

Oh, seven feet! I was like a little kid running to different areas of the pool to get the depth from the all knowing life guard.  

This is scary.  I told my wife.  She just grimaced at me and said "Just jump into the water and you'll be fine." I will lap a few times and get back.  In the meantime, I will teach you a few basic things and you can practise here.

As usual, I tried to wade in the water like a fish, but ended up more like a dinosaur looking all out of sorts.  The water splashed in all directions, and in one breath, tried to traverse the fifty meters; after a few minutes (it was actually a few seconds), I lifted my head out of the water only to realize that I haven't swum more than 5 meters.  I was gasping for breath.  Water had engulfed my nose.  I had made a complete fool out of myself.  I looked around in all directions.  The life guard was looking in a different direction.  I think he did not have the heart to look at me.  The swimmers in the other lanes were busy.  There were a couple of them cracking jokes.  I was sure they were directed at me.  I would never know.  I was languishing in my world for the next one hour.

My wife headed back after many 100m backstroke, free style and other variations.  Then, I listened to the best few words uttered by her.  "I think we should head back home".