FMLM – Time for SCUBA – By Deepa Jayaraman

A WANDERER'S SOUL

I am a travel addict and blessed with restless feet. I travel to a new place once a month. And I have been doing this for the past three years, and quite consistently so. Be it mountains, beaches, cities or ruins, travel is a calling my heart cannot but respond.

Having visited about 35 countries and counting, I always looked forward to new terrains. And just when I thought I had seen it all, my nine-year-old kid pushed my boundaries even more. One evening, when my kid and I were studying social sciences, a beautiful statistic came up for discussion. His book spoke about how over 70 per cent of the earth is just water. Of the remaining 30 per cent, forests and forest land make up for a good majority, leaving a measly 15 per cent of the land liveable. This little detail struck us both. It meant that no matter how much ever we travelled, we possibly would never even touch 5 per cent of exploring the world.

My son then made a very remarkable comment. He said, “This means we now have to explore more of the oceans so we can truly see the whole world!”

All "happy" before the dive

TIME FOR SCUBA

That set me thinking. I love adventure and I can surf, skydive, ski, swim and snorkel. I had done all this but never had I done scuba and explored the life underwater.

Excitedly, I enrolled myself for a PADI Open Water diving course and landed up in the diving school in #Pondicherry. The first day at the diving school was just theory. There was a lot to read. We watched videos and took assessment tests. Back in a school environment, my inner child was acting up. I didn’t pay much attention and glanced through it. I was eagerly waiting to get into the water and we soon assembled for the much-awaited pool session. In the pool session, the instructors test your endurance and teach skills that we will use during scuba dive. Again, it was all a breeze. I aced it all.

DAY 1 – FEAR GRIPS ME

The next morning, I got ready enthusiastically. I got all kitted up, got my equipment ready, tested my gas cylinders and got on the boat to hit the

Ocean. It was more than a 30-minute boat ride to the dive site.

My instructor got into the water and signaled me to jump in. And out of nowhere, I was just struck with fear. Some unforeseen fear gripped me. It was strange, stupid even but defying all logic, I refused to get off the boat. After many minutes and much coaxing, I finally took the plunge.

Only to suffer a huge panic attack. I was so scared I couldn’t even think straight. Water was filling my face and mask. I was gulping water, sucking water in through my nose and even took off the gas regulator from my mouth. Like any scuba diver would tell you, these are things you NEVER do! I knew it. But I couldn’t help myself. Fear was getting the better of me. I was a total disaster and we had to abort the dive after just 3-4 minutes in water.

Once I was brought up on the boat, my instructor kept talking to me. He told me there was no need to worry and that it was normal to panic. He made me have a second go at it. And how did the second dive go? Well, I lasted in the water this time for a whole eight minutes… But the same result. Panic crept in and my day 1 was a total failure.

Back on land, I kept chanting for strength from the Universe. I wanted to scuba and explore life underwater. My fear ruled high but thankfully after a “failed” day 1, a little bit of ego crept in too. “I cannot fail” affirmation overpowered me and soon the next day was upon us.

I continued to struggle the next couple of days too. I was the slowest! People who came with me to do the course had passed and I was still unable to clear my mask underwater. After four days of efforts, somehow, I managed to scrape through my course. Though I was now a certified Open Water Diver, I knew I was not good.

NO PAIN NO GAIN

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, it is said. So, I decided to get back into water and prove to myself that I could do it. I went on to do a few special dive courses to work on my buoyancy and movements. I later even did my Advanced Open Water Certification.
Of course, I still feared it. So, while every dive was a challenge, with every dive, I realised, I kept getting better. In the Advanced programme, we are supposed to do a deep dive (more than 30m – 100 ft) underwater. I was primed that the water will be colder, it would be dark at that depth and my body will need to deal with stress.

The night before my deep dive, I just couldn’t sleep. I kept visualising my dive, kept chanting and praying. The dive went as planned, I did well and reached the bottom. It was super dark and my instructor then switched on his headlight. At that very moment, when I could see clearly thanks to the flashlight, I realised I was standing very close to a sea snake! Oh, my good God! I panicked and how. I was kicking violently and flapping my hands savagely to get away from there. It felt like all the fear that I had successfully managed to keep at bay came back with a vengeance! My instructor pulled me away and then we continued with the rest of the dive. Later I come to know that it was not a snake but an eel…irrespective, it freaked me out.

On another occasion, my instructor asked me to go near a patch where there were many black eels. He wanted to take a few good photographs of me. I refused and swam away just to know later on that they weren’t eels but sea cucumbers.

I have now clocked about 20 dives and I am getting better every time.

DARR KE AAGE JEET HAI

For every time I am underwater, I cannot stop but wonder how admirable underwater life is. It is so full of mysteries. The way the fishes swim, the turtles paddle around, the swag with which the octopus moves about with it’s multidirectional ‘tentacles’, the bright corals, the wrecks in the sea, the array of colours all around – there is so much life and yet it is breathtakingly silent!

Had I not pushed myself to overcome my fear, this whole expansive experience would have belied me.

Travel can push boundaries, expand horizons and bring you face-to-face with a version of yourself you never knew existed. 

Scuba did all this and so much more for me!

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