I must warn that this is NOT THE WAY TO LEARN TO SWIM and ask that no one try this out.
In one my earlier posts, I had mentioned how my mum wanted us to acquire certain skills and swimming was one of them. In those days our town had one very fancy hotel that had a very nice pool, but we could not afford the swimming lessons there, so we didn’t even think of that place as an option.
My mother’s native place is a village a short distance away from Mangalore, the house was set amidst paddy fields, arecanut plantations and there was a small hill with cashew trees behind the house. A stream nearby that ran shallow most of the year, would swell up during the rainy season and remain so for a few months after. The paddy fields and arecanut plantations would be fed with water from a deep manmade pond.
Two of my cousins lived in that house with their parents, an unmarried uncle, and our grandparents. Three other cousins, my sister and I would call it home all through our summer and Dasara (a 10 day festival dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Durga) school breaks.
At the start of one Dasara break my mum decided that her 11 year old must now learn to swim and requested her unmarried brother, my uncle, who had by now the experience of training and supervising my older cousins to teach my sister and me.
And so it began.
The location: THE POND where everyone in the family – uncles, aunts, older cousins learnt to swim.
A coconut float – handmade by expert uncle with help from older cousins. A through and through hole was drilled into two well dried coconuts. A rope was passed through the two coconuts and knotted on the outer sides of the two coconuts. The rope between the two coconuts would be of sufficient length for the learner to lay on and float.
A long rope – would be tied to one ankle. The learner would be pulled back to the bank when the coconut float, well, floated away leaving the learner to sink.
A swim ring – aka tube. Uncle managed to get a hold of an inflatable inner tube of a car tyre. It had to be positioned around the waist before sliding into the water. It restricted hand movements and felt overly bulky.
Swimwear – Petticoat for the girls, underwear for the boys (We didn’t have swim suits!).
Once all the paraphernalia was readied, we marched to the pond. My cousins all jumped into the water, some dived from above, my sister was excited, but yours truly developed chicken feet. I simply could not bring myself to enter the water. The depth built unexplainable fear in me, who on land is otherwise a fearless warrior that can take on the ‘mighty’ cockroach, participate in Radio programmes, take part in competitions and Rotary club events and so on and so forth. To induce confidence in me, my sister decided to prove to me how easy it was. She strapped the float on, got the rope tied to an ankle, positioned the swim ring around her and jumped into the water. The float drifted away, the tube stayed in place on the water, and my sister went under! The saviour of the day being the rope 🙂 And I ran away from the pond and wasted away an entire vacation refusing to venture near the pond.
The following year, uncle decided to change the swim lesson venue to the steam near the house. All he asked me to do was lie flat on the coconut float and drift, allowing the force of the water to do all the work (of moving me forward). A year older this time round, a year wiser perhaps, but a bigger chicken as well. So another opportunity was lost.
The next year, mum decided I needed some well-meaning arm twisting and came along and literally told my uncle to throw me in the water (with all the contraptions of course!). I think I needed just that! Lo and behold! All the fear melted away, as the water engulfed me. I seemed to have been taken over by some deep lying courage that needed time to emerge. I learnt to swim and even enjoyed diving into the pond. I remember my first diving attempt – three of my oldest cousins were in stand by mode, to rescue me, just in case I did not resurface 🙂
We all loved our time in the pond so much that we would spend hours every morning in there. Uncle would force us all to compulsorily eat a boiled nendra banana each if we wanted to swim. I reluctantly ate it then. I do not like the boiled avatar of that fruit even to this day but do enjoy it as is and in its other cooked forms.