Scuba diving, snorkeling, diving, swimming, jumping, sinking, drowning, boating none of this was/is in my bucket list with respect to water apart from bathing with this much volume of water! I was put on a rafting boat by my friends years back and we went dashing through the Ganges. At one point where the water is still and so are the hills, you can jump into the water with your life jacket on and you will get to float in the mighty Ganges. While all my friends were already in the water, I was clinging on to the boat and refused to jump in, screeching out with fear, breaking the silence of the place. The boatman finally managed to push me into the water and pull me back in. With fear gripping me I hardly remember how it was to float in the cold water. My friends had a video of it to mock me for the rest of my life. That’s the history..
I and my friend were planning to visit Murudeshwar and with just half day to spend at the temple, my friend came up with the idea of Netrani islands. Though I knew about Netrani and Scuba diving, I was safely avoiding it from the plan because I was afraid. Afraid to take the plunge. Afraid to do even snorkel. But then I decided to go ahead, register first and then may be sit in the boat, watch the pristine island and come off! I picked up the phone and called the scuba diving office, a rather heavy voice picked up the phone. I quickly asked for the rates and he briefed it. “Listen, is it safe?” I asked with doubt in my voice. “100%” said the heavy voice. Man, why can’t he have a little less threatening voice, it sounded more like a kidnapper demanding for money. “Should I have to get into that scuba suite?” “No madam, regular dress.” Relieved! I put down the phone without asking any further questions, paid the advance, mailed across the id proofs for they need to get permit to enter the island and then prayed.
The day arrived! We were at the place by 9am and after signing in the, “I am responsible if I die” form, we were waiting to board the boat. The form has various questions to check about your medical history and please be honest for it is not a joke. The boat was loaded with all scuba equipment, we put on our life jacket and off we set sailing. As the Shiva looked at us sailing past Him, we shouted ‘Har Har Mahadev’ for a safe journey. As the boat sails, the man behind the heavy voice starts explaining about Scuba diving. He was full of energy, enthu, humorous and friendly than what I had imagined. “If you have sea sickness, look at the horizon”, oh, here comes the solution thought I and looked out at the endless sea, gripping to the planks of the boat. With a slight giddiness setting in and my heart thumping faster, he starts explaining about scuba diving. SCUBA stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. He goes on to explain how your ears will pain, how your joints can cramp, how your shoulders might pain, how your ear drums can get damaged, how your lungs can burst or collapse! I looked back to pray at Shiva and He was not in vicinity. Should I take a plunge risking my lung to collapse? “What if I puke in the oxygen mask?”, my friend popped up her long term doubt. Glad she was only thinking of puking while I was thinking of lung burst. “You come up, puke, then we go down. Simple!” he laughed. Then he taught to use the goggles, oxygen mask, what to do if water enter the goggles, water enters your mouth, you drop the oxygen mask, you run out of oxygen. “What? We will run out of oxygen?”, my eyes popped out. He showed me a meter hanging from the cylinder to explain how much of oxygen is there, how to read it and all that information went right out of my head! We got turns to practice pressure equalization, breathing in and out of the oxygen mask, blow out water from the goggles and whoa. It choked me big time and I decided, am not doing it ok! He calmed me down, taught to rhythmically breath through it and convinced me that everybody does it and I can do it. Also he assured it is not going to be like ‘Jaws’ movie. After about more than an hour the island was in vicinity.
As we docked near the island, the water looked emerald green and you could almost see underneath and the eagerness to jump into the sea increased in me. “If you have sea sickness jump into the sea, you will feel better!”, exclaimed our diver who was already in the water. Before I could look everyone else were in water. I looked at my friend, “I am not jumping, I dunno swimming!” “We have given 5000 bucks, let’s at least jump into the sea”, she was in the water in couple of minutes. Err.. Really? Dive in? Two other were ready to jump in, boatman was already in the water and I did not want to be left behind in a boat with no one. “Should I jump in?” I asked fellow friends on the boat. “I ll help you. Just get on and dive in. It is easy than landing from the ladder!” I took his advice to heart, got unto the edge of the boat and whoa, there I dived, right on my face into the sea! Drank litres of sea water, no way I could gasp for air, and like a cockroach stuck in flush I was doing something with my hands and legs hoping I would float up. I eventually floated up with my head still under water and the diver came to my rescue, turned me around. “I drank so much of sea water!” first words to come out, still battling the water with my hands and legs. “Your system will be cleansed today!” he took me near the ladder and helped me get unto the boat! “I am alive”. I and my friend were very much happy with the first little adventure of battling with dense cold sea water and coming out alive.
There were nearly 35 people for the day and approximately 6 to 7 divers and we were taken in batches. Nearly 30 to 40 min you will be underwater, it also depends on how comfortable you are. There are rings around the boat and you can manage to snorkel in it or just laze around too. Now, we had already got into water, we are wet, jacket is suffocating, sun is scorching and we are hungry and there was no sign of our turn. We were offered some biscuits, fruits, juices while the boat was wobbling badly. I could see people going in and out of water. Guys did not want to lose face in front of girls and girls did not want to prove they are any less, so eventually everybody took the plunge.
I was the 35th person to dive, when there was no one else to and I had to dive. They put on the fins, fix the oxygen cylinder, added lot of weights and then the goggles. Breathe through the oxygen mask. I was surrounded with fellow travelers and divers and they kept cheering me, asking me to relax and encouraging me to take it cool. Well all 34 are alive, so I should be fine. And then! I sat on the edge of the boat and there they pushed me right on my back into the sea, like a somersault! I went again down, kept breathing, diver pulled me up. Relax, breathe, turn into water, everything is blur, brown, panic! I came up, breathe, relax, turn, panic! The diver calmed me down and this time I took my time to breathe rhythmically and maintained the rhythm as I turned. Believe me, you will be in trouble if you breathe fast, don’t breathe or lose track of your rhythm. Count 1 to 10 for every time you inhale then again for exhale, you are all set. As you go down your ear starts to prick, close your nose and release the pressure.
I could soon see rocks or the sea bed with some weeds on it and soon I was like, ‘did I take all the pain to see this?’ But then I lifted my head and whoa! The colorful world right in front of me, I just could not believe what I was seeing. They were maroon colored, striped, blue ones, yellow with black ones, different shades of eels, sea urchin, corals, fish camouflaged like rock, and none of which I know the name. I was lucky to spot a pearl in its sea shell. I turned into a child pointing to go here and there and the diver took me everywhere, low and high and behind school of fishes. With the air bubbles going in a rhythmic sound and with a beautiful scenery in front of me, my state of mind was exquisite. While I was lost in this world I had no clue when I had let go off the diver’s hand, he was in front of me clicking photos. I am one person who do not pose for photos in land and he wanted me to pose under water.. I held on to him after couple of pics and we were set to come up to the surface. We both bid goodbye to the fishes and the lovely sea and came up to the surface.
“Did you like it?” the diver asked me. I was hugging the ladder so I couldn’t turn around to give him one. I don’t know his name but he is someone I will always remember for showing me such a beautiful world. The entire team of divers were amazing. They were taking people from almost morning 11.30 till 5 in the evening and they do it every day yet the enthusiasm and curiosity they have as though it is their first dive shows how passionate they are. I did not have anything to worry about being safe in the hands of the diver. I had such a wonderful time with them. My throat had run dry, I drank a juice and before I could finish, “I think am gonna puuu”, there came everything out like a tap just broke. Everybody in the boat cheered, “yay one more wicket down!” As the sun went down, we left the island and started our way back to the land. I was still out of words for my perception of sea has changed. From, the rough one that dashes to the shore and retreats, to a paradise which needs to be explored and preserved.
With a sense of achievement, I gleefully looked at my face in the mirror. Oh my God! I looked like a charred chicken kabab with loads of salt and my hair was like some spikes. I laughed at my super tanned face. Who cares, I have a day to cherish for the rest of my life. I still remember the diver’s words, “Go girl, go around the world and dive. 70% of the earth is water, so you have more place to explore than the land. Divers live longest, it’s the best sport.” Well I don’t know if they will live long because of the sport, but with happy souls wishing them, they will live long.