Living to Tell About It
I have tried many times to learn swimming in my life. As my instructor told me, loosening up in water, didn’t come quite natural to me. I get stiff, whole body, I mean, like a log. I start fighting with water as the ‘pool waves’ engulf me like a tsunami. And when my head comes out and I could feel the pool bottom, the world seem to be insultingly calm & normal
I didn’t want drowning to be a mode of death for my life, so I tried.
Childhood was the best time to learn swimming. You are kind of fearless, unknown of consequences, pool is playful, then. We used to have access to natural pools, with no mechanical filtration systems and they used to be green, reflecting the nature around. They used to have laterite steps, often slippery with the growth of moss and the like. I used to think that might be the way I would fall in water, slipping. This was a friends place and he used to have a ‘big’ dog which often escapes the leash and comes to the pool running, hearing us have fun. He just wanted to play with us, friends said, but for me he was a monster attacking me. I still remember how I used to run carrying my beating heart in my hand. So, I was always distracted and couldn’t complete my lessons. Swimming more or less ended up like dipping legs in the pool and waiting for the monster.
College days too, somehow my insecurity and too much love for my life prevented me from visiting the pool nearby with the scary fellow pranksters. As we all know, five years of college lasted only a few seconds, making memories (which I can hardly recollect), playing, loving & studying!
As the play days were over and work caught up, life staring at me, swimming was never a priority. I will have to go again back to my glasses here, as I wanted to see the depths of the pool. I loved the blue, I loved being in water, of course with my feet feeling the floor. But I could only wear my goggles and the pool was dreamy and hazy, which I didn’t mind. Struggled to see my fellow swimmers, especially that of the opposite sex, not that I made any accidents in the pool- I was too well behaved for that. I left my glasses at the pool edge and wore them in between to experience ‘world’ clearer.
I still couldn’t swim, I mean well enough! Breathing was erratic, legs fussy! I was inching my 30s, I suppose then.
Life slowed down. I changed. Goals shifted. Now, my priority was to feel water, ten years down the line. Did I start seeing the silver lining in the horizon where enlightenment was opening its door? The things I see when I look at things went deeper. I was observing the unsaid words more than the said ones. Existential questions haunted me, I got suspicious of this circus. People around me changed, new ones appeared, friends changed, lost touch. Pool changed.
I think, I am not a quitter. I couldn’t believe that I am incapable of learning this trick which was mastered by thousands of generations. I wanna move like a dolphin, a whale, a tortoise, the least! Am I genes this weak? Am I going to die a scared cat, a pussy?
Again, I enrolled for lessons. This is where I think the story changed a bit. This was a regimental affair. Six of us taking six lanes of a school’s 25 m pool. My instructor was a friendly Filipino, who struggled to make me relax. Explaining the theory behind it, we are water, don’t fight with it, flow with it. We are like a balloon when your lungs are filled with air which floats- but I had holes in my balloon! Feel like a fish, kick with your thighs involved, keep your body posture which give least resistance for the forward thrust! I wished I had learned ballet to have the calmness and fluid movements!
I made progress. We mastered kicking, strokes, breathing. Half pool became a piece of cake. We ventured to the new depths of the pool. My hazy vision of the deep end wall, made it unpredictable. It was a moment of truth staring at you. Have you got it, to take the plunge. Once you leap towards the deep end from half of the pool, I knew my feet wouldn’t be able to feel the ground. It was a mind game. If you convince yourself it’s just the other half of the pool which you just covered, you will reach the shores, like a boss. BUT!
Fear comes in waves. Either you rule the fear or you succumb. Whenever you succumb, it’s ugly. You end up feeling like a piece of shit. You gather your shit, breathe and try again. Life becomes really slow here and your one hour session never ends. Fear sends a shiver through your spine like a lightning, from your stretched toes to your brain. It’s like life awakening, saying hello. It’s like a reminder, hello, I need air. I had to go deeper to understand my psyche. I am sure it’s different for each one of us. What is that you are worried? Are you going to die today? Is this your limit? Is this what you made of? Is that it?
I still fell short, many times.
It was always easier doing this from the deeper end to the shallow end, knowing you are going to the safer end, to home, to mama! Such a baby! And I remember the first time I hit the 25 meters from the deep end to shallow end in a single stretch, the kids and mommy’s waiting for the next session literally cheered me, clapped for me. I did wave at the crowd, as I won the gold, just like Phelps. I pulled myself out of the pool with a smile that day, at 40!
I still struggled with the other direction. I rigged deeper, I told him my problem. His answer was, I am here, don’t worry, you are not going to die today! That wasn’t helpful. He needed to understand me, this stale answer won’t help me. Dig deeper with me, come to the cosmic levels. We are talking about my life here. LIFE, MY LIFE! I knew, it wasn’t about my swimming. It was the mind, playing tricks with me. I was left to find my answer on my own and I did find the answer, after many sessions! AIR! You need to stay calm to understand when you need the air, to stay alive! And when you need, you seek. Twist your body and rest your head on the stretched hand, look up at the sky, the birds, the stars, and just breath with intent, like you mean it, as you complete your stroke with the other hand. Get as much as you can. Air will not only fill your lungs but your heart and brain. Cosmic doors open. Stars dance, boxes ticked, everything works in unison, you swim like a dolphin- not exactly, but a half dolphin.
I noticed that my mental peace affected the way I swim too. If you are stressed, you don’t hustle. You duck and just complete your session just because you have paid in advance. Your soul don’t feel the water then, your body just gets wet. I didn’t like such days.
It was one such day where we were trying the deeper end swimming lessons. I was done with the day which was tiring. We did almost 30 minutes of swimming. I wanted to get out of the pool and excuse the group. But I was too modest to do that. I continued. Life wasn’t happy, job wasn’t satisfying. But now I had to take the plunge. I haven’t reached where I should be. Water was dull. It reflected the color of my soul then, I guess. Haven’t done well for my family, for myself. The pool lights were at the edge and the lanes had a dark patch on the floor. I missed the big picture, ran behind the in between things. The group took the plunge, I heard them hitting the water. Time ticked, and I just existed as life was given. Time for my plunge passed. I looked at the instructor, who was waving at me to take the plunge. Did I take enough risks to the best of my abilities? Have you ducked in life just like you are now at the pool edge?
I, heavy with my thoughts, took the leap.
It was a messy leap, I was sure my legs were not feeling the ground. Do I have enough air to last this swim, this life? Are my hands in coordination with my breathing. Too much technique came into my head. The rhythm was lost. I covered some distance with the first push, you are in the deep end with no wall to hold on, no hand to hold on. You got to deal with your own mess. I forgot the lesson! Forgot the answer, AIR! Lightning struck, shiver passed, from the toes to the tip. I saw fear’s face. It was blue, deep blue. I looked up, wasn’t sure how to reach up. My hand was heavy, unable to lift. Legs exhausted, failing to kick. I hung in there. Is this the truth? Is this how it’s going to end? Should I try, one more time? Where is my survival instincts?
I gave up. I quit! I remember my exact thoughts, I am tired, if he saves me, I will live. I was stiff, not a dolphin anymore. I couldn’t think of any reason at that time to give it a shot, kick at least. Try something, lazy asshole! I wished I had the whistle which Rose blew to the rescue team! I didn’t breathe. Tried not to take any water till ‘help’ came. Was I always waiting for someone to come and rescue me? We did this swim many times before and no one was expecting an emergency. It felt like hours in there but in fact it was few seconds. The tsunami around me just continued. I went to the first session of our training, all those lessons forgotten- swimming and life alike!
Help did come, at the end. My instructors hands slowly pulling me up. Sense prevailed and I took as much air as I wanted. I thanked him and excused myself, modesty was excused, then. I couldn’t even pull myself out of the pool at the edge. I walked along the edge till I can feel my leg again, to walk like the man I was.
Swimming was easier and better after that even if the deep ends challenge me at times. I had to have this suicidal thought and event to really understand what it takes to be alive. Now I love to swim without my cap, feeling the water on my face, cleansing my soul and mind. Hope I never get struck by the lightning again.
A maze of thoughts & patterns
Often I try to run free
How do I know where I am headed?
A dead one or an open one?
I wanna feel the horizon again
Leaving the maze far behind!
I was to be a doctor, A DOCTOR! I tried, not because my parents wanted, but that’s what I thought I should do at that point in time. Obviously, life had other plans for me.
I was 17. Blood was never as hot as for my peers. I wasn’t stubborn. But looked serious, so I am told. Grew up in a college campus, professor’s kid! May be the glasses; always felt out of place in a group, still do!
Doctor, that’s what I wanted to be! I knew that the exam was tough; a mass hysteria! One day affair, two sessions of draining vomit of the past two years, definitely it’s going to stink. Sense prevailed by evening, I was not going to be a doctor.
Me and my Dad, decided to run away from that examination centre, from that city, at the first given opportunity. No booking, ride the general compartment , that was the call.
One of the very first long train rides that I took- worst experience of my life except for the blowing wind. The train has always had that smell of iron & dust like the blood and sweat of the many men who thrived to build that massive network. Standing, swaying, sleeping, the night was getting longer than that day. The meal of the night was slowly developing into something monstrous within me. I wondered about my Dad’s stomach and then about all the others in that train, a train full of that night’s meal!
I was carrying the bag which was more like to complete that trip. A trip needed a bag, I assume. It was an exam, so a pen, a pencil etc- so a bag was justified.
After almost eight hours of journey, standing and swaying, smelling neighbors aged sweat, we both were like zombies who rubbed their eyes open to the fact that the train doesn’t stop at our usual stop. I was heart broken, raged; Dad was saying something- did he say next stop? Was he crazy? Next stop! Pull that chain, someone? People joined in our discussion- I was isolated again in that group- I don’t need your suggestions – NO NEXT STOP!
Arguments. Train was slowing down for some reason. Bag, me, Dad, that was the order from the door. Jump? My blood was on the hob, slowly boiling. Dad wondering, can I make it- THE JUMP? Next stop is another one and a half hour of swaying and jumping in another mode of land transport! Jump now or jump later? Your choice!
It was 4 am. Not yet dawn. Yellow lights hardly helping to see. I saw the train turning, slowing down. Almost stopping. Bag, me, Dad- that was my plan- didn’t ask what my Dad’s was!
It was 4:02. Cold a bit, but my boiling blood kept me warm. Train is passing the station now. Me and my bag can make it, I thought; didn’t ask what my Dad thought!
The moment I jumped, train started picking up speed, it had a plan, to reach the next stop and the stops after. The sound of the train started getting louder. I stood there, watching my dad struggling through the vertical steps of the pacing train. What the fuck did I just do?
Train was upset, it seemed. Getting faster and louder. What was my Dad thinking at that time? Was he thinking I didn’t have any money in my hand? Was he thinking he might not be able to make it? Was he worried leaving his teenager son at that time of the night alone on the track? Was he thinking of my childhood? I really hope he was just thinking about his life at that time, for God’s sake!
He jumped, just escaping the nearby metal pole which I am sure he wasn’t aware of. As I looked, I saw his silhouette struggling to balance on the rubbles around the tracks. The train made a dramatic exit out of the scene bringing the violent background score to an end. Silence and darkness took over, and the crickets.
That was one of the longest one minute of my life so far!
We were far apart; Dad walked towards me without complaining, calm. I don’t think we said anything during our next ten minutes’ ride from the station, or even the next day. I was still angry, blood hot. That night the doctor in me died forever and it all went out of hands afterwards.
Later I apologized to my Dad for that night. I still do at times in my mind!
25 years, it still gives me chill to my spine how that night could have changed our lives. The power of a particular moment that you have still fascinates me. It influences our future beyond our imagination!
Why was I hurrying? What was bothering me? Was I just being an asshole? Maybe I was just a slave of that moment of which I had no control.
Tired and aloof from a broken sleep
A sleep haunted by a dream
I didn’t make it Dad, I didn’t
Times have changed, aspirations differed
Lifestyle has ‘progressed’, life isn’t
I couldn’t make it Dad, I couldn’t
I worry. I worry, if I could feed my kids
I wonder, if I could lead my kids
I wonder, you had such worries, Dad
I didn’t make it Dad, I didn’t
I wished you let me walk on my own
I wish you held my hand now, Dad
We compete, fight for the left overs
We sleep tired feeding on the greed
Wake up tired haunted by the deed
I couldn’t make it Dad, I couldn’t
Thank god it’s just a dream, this far
Me, Dad and a slump in the throat.
At night everything makes sense, sometimes. I had struggled to sleep, off late. Different thoughts kept me awake. A sense of lack of time was killing me inside out. Lack of time to do what? That was something I needed to figure out. They say, as you get older you ‘actually’ sleep less.
Yesterday was somewhat like one of those nights. The phone next to your head is yet to set off. I reached out and got hold of the phone, shivering in the coldness of Air Conditioning. I felt like warming it up.
The seconds blinking just like my cursor now, when I am not typing. I felt it’s trying to tell me something. Get up? Alarm was set for 6:00. I have three more hours of ‘scheduled ‘ sleep
I sat up. I sat there for almost an hour, picked up the phone again.
This is the time , tricky in your life. I have read most people die in early hours of morning. That I am sure is a made up survey led by a dramatic person. But I was sure, sleep was not on cards from then.
I looked for my glasses and for my slippers. I needed to see the world with a warm feet, not with a cold one, duh! Glasses, always were a worry, first to reach out every morning. Now, phone is in the league too.
I tiptoed out of the bedroom. Without switching on the lights, making sure I don’t wake anyone up. I have felt this is the time your mind is very clear. I WAS AWAKE. When I try to recollect those moments now, they don’t come easy, but I FELT awake, then. The feel of that morning is fresh in my mind even now.
As the water was boiling, my mind wandered. The unwritten emails, left over tasks, incomplete proposals started rushing in to my mind. I didn’t want to think about them and exactly they were the ones which managed to squeeze through. These thoughts were unfinished business when I hit the bed. No one had taken up and solved them for me, no one would. You need to clear your own shit, you can’t complain about that.
The things that you procrastinate, the things that you wanted to say but left unsaid, the things that you wished you did and didn’t do, the life you didn’t live, the love you didn’t give- they visit you too, at this hour. The way the time has slipped through your hands, how life has tricked you in this trap, the way you have taken things for granted, how you have let them down! They say lot many times, I am too hard on myself, but where is the bar? How hard is really hard?
I was not walking like a zombie, but with purpose, that morning, having no idea of who woke me up. As I circled the dining table with my tea, I saw this book I picked up the night before from my pile of unread books. It looked like that book was kept there by someone for me to see, at the center of the table below the dining lamp.
What I noticed was the smiling Kirsten Stewart on the cover when I bought it. It said, ‘NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE’ , ON THE ROAD. I saw the movie afterwards but I had forgotten about this book that I bought. Loved the movie, and yes, Kirsten!
Dawn was yet to crack. Light was yet to come in. I could feel the deep blue sky outside without looking out. I could feel how cold it was outside and how silent it was. I could hear my heart beat, slow and relaxed. I was at peace at that moment as I sat on the table. On one side I had my iPad and on the other, Kirsten. There was a kind of mind game for a few seconds before I made the obvious choice. Before knowing, I was typing JACK KEROUAC on my Pinterest search bar. It opened up a whole new world of information. His books, quotes, pics and what not!
I was reading with purpose now. I get distracted fast if the words are not arranged well in an exciting way. But this one was a keeper and had all the energy of a young stallion. I read some initial interesting pages and got distracted again on the digital screen
Those were inspirational. I was no where near that description. But how the idea was put and the formation of that sentence were amazing. It made me think about my life, how I live, what work I do. Madness that was contagious was totally absent and was filled with a kind of escapism. So bland that you slept to kill time as if you are doing time, to fill in a form.
No, I should not get carried away, the rationale mind advised.
I was upset. Visibly upset. What I have done with my life and what I have become. Not leading a life that I would wish to relive. I saw my reflection on the black screen of my idle phone, lit by the lamp above. I took off my glasses and reflection became blurred. Wore them again, touched the screen and the bright light of the screen hid my reflection, I decided to escape again, one more time.
But this hit me hard. A sudden urge to run got into my head. This time an escape for a good reason. An escape from the unattended baggage of yesterday, responsibilities, the things weighing you down so much that you find it hard to move. To know how it feels to be free. To see the possibilities. An attempt, at least once?
Do you have the balls?
I guess this is what happens when you sit alone at this time of the day. I have been a loner who enjoyed solitude. But the fact that no one would ever think of me to have a ‘good time with’ has often left me depressed. You can’t have both, I suppose!
I was clear at that point that I should leave. So clear that it scares me now. I too should hit the road, meet strangers who don’t judge you or expect you to be ‘someone’.
As I struggled with my reflection on the phone, it lit up again, it was the alarm this time around.
Bruce Springsteen: Sadness, Love, Madness, and Soul