Aqua triplets: My memories of life’s elixir

Water, that eternal substance is the very source of our life. We are full of it – each pore and molecule. Without water for our daily needs, there is very little we can do; its presence and potency are inseparable. Even a simple, yet important, ritual like a daily bath is enshrined in our water mantra. A bath gives us so many ideas; the refreshing feeling of water cascading down our bodies transform our thoughts. We come out rejuvenated after a shower, a daily miracle which is taken for granted.

With the pleasure of water caressing our bodies and lifting our mood, it is no wonder that bathroom singers come alive during the bath. From the ancient to the most modern societies – all have evolved with water. Be it the Hamman baths or the Jacuzzis, the churning waters have soothed our stressed-out bodies.

Water for me breathes into my very being and is always on my mind psychologically and spiritually. The close bond I have with water is intrinsic and the very thought of it takes me to another dimension.

 

The little Viet mermaid

 

Our group of friends landed at dusk in the beautiful seaside town of Danang. We had an amazing two-day cruise at Halong Bay and I enjoyed swimming in the turquoise backwaters of the bay, tiny hillocks jutting out to make breath-taking backdrops.

We unpacked and walked along the famous Danang seaside boulevard. The seafood restaurants were now coming to life with their life-size aquariums, holding their prized catches of live lobsters, crayfish and a multitude of other fish varieties. The chefs had geared up to net the selections the guests had made and to cook in front of them. I took a detour from this action and walked towards the sea, it was pulling me no end.

The sun had just set and the crimson shade on the horizon was mesmerising. I kicked off my shoes and waded into the gentle, lapping water. I felt my soles connecting to my soul. I cursed for not getting my swimsuit, but I promised myself that I would be back in the morning for sure. I had forgotten our half-day trip to Bana hill. The trip was nice and we had fun, drank great beer and saw many sights. But, my heart was in the DanangBay.

We returned at 4 pm and within half an hour, I was in the water. I was like a kid collecting sea-shells, feeling rich with the bounty. The soft sand and the swish of the water were ethereal. I waded neck-deep, as the eddies under my feet now played eerily, but pleasantly. The salty water tasted soothing to my lips. I couldn’t ask for more.

I swam, riding each wave, and turned on my back after a few minutes. The sight of the vast blue sky was something out of this world – clumps of clouds, fancy shaped and gliding by like cotton balls. My mind enveloped my body first and expanded in sync with the vast sky. I wanted to close my eyes in gratitude but didn’t dare to for fear of floating into the ocean. Time stood still.

I glanced towards the shore and saw the little one. Her face was beaming as she let out delightful shrieks, her little hands flinging all over. Tiny drops of water flew around her as if they were fairies. The sight had a huge magnetic effect on me and, within the next few minutes, I was standing next to the little one! She looked at me and screamed something in Vietnamese, giggling and pointing her little finger.

I replied, “Hey baby, don’t worry, I shall just watch you swim.” Her mom translated, “No, she is not afraid, she is calling you to join her! She wants to throw water at you.” Emboldened, I took a few more steps towards her and gestured for her to come into my outstretched arms, as it touched the water. Her mom asked her to sit on my hands like a boat and splash her legs. The little girl gave one of the sweetest smiles I have ever received in my whole life and plonked into my arms. She was a bundle of joy!

She started flinging her arms and legs like a professional oars lady, little chunks of water hitting my face. Her facial expressions were a delight to watch. By now everybody had stopped and were giving a watery ovation.

The little one was going berserk, shouting above the roar of the waves. It was a heavenly feeling. At that moment I asked her mom what her li’l one’s name was. “Mai-Latte,” screamed the little one. Astonished, I saidher name and pulled her underwater for fun. She came up gurgling and smiling; clinging to my chest and calling me CHU (meaning uncle).

I looked at the mountain cutting into the ocean, with a marble white lady Buddha atop. Meditation happened that instant, fleeting yet bringing eternal bliss. This moment of water and the blissfulness and innocence of the tiny tot have since been interwoven into my being.

You can see the pure joy in the little one’s smile in the picture above – after all a picture tells a million and more impressions.

 

 

The water warrior

I must have been about nine years old when some of us kids planned an outing to the Tonakela swimming camp outside Avadi township. We reached the pristine environs of this army campsite, quickly unpacked and got into our professional swimsuits … well nothing more than a chaddi, to be precise. We ran around the pool, screaming our guts out, excitedly, as we waited for our slot, which was a good hour away. We also made many plans on what we would do in the water. One of the games we had planned was to see who held their breath underwater for the longest. Whoever came out the last, even if half-dead, would be the winner.

When we entered the pool, the frenzy grew. We splashed and kicked the water and chopped it mid-air – Bruce Lee would be put to shame! Tiny bubbles rose with rainbow hues. It was fun indeed, more so as I was with my best buddies. Our throats hoarse and lips parched despite water all around us, we started our ‘hold the breath’ competition. We took a deep breath and dived in.

A few seconds and I popped out like a silicon balloon! “What’s this?Something is wrong,” I wondered. The other kids took eons to come out. When they saw me already standing in the knee-deep water, they laughed. As a kid, nothing is more insulting than being considered a sissy. I was wounded, my heart heavy. I said, “Let me go to the deep end (a good 9 feet) and dive in there for the next round. I want to be the winner.”

The kids chorused, “No, not that side. It’s dangerous.” But little did I heed. I ran and jumped, lest they came to fetch me. I went in like a rock and on touching the floor, I bundled my hands and legs into a ball, so that I wouldn’t come up quickly. I wanted to prove that my great lungs were not empty balloons.

I held on, long. I didn’t get scared at all. The many seconds seemed like an eternity. Soon, my lungs were aching and bursting. My vision was getting blurred. I felt my stomach bloating, with all that gulping. My hands and legs were turning weary and jelly-like. I had to breathe! Oh, God!

Suddenly I was at the surface of the water. Through a crack of light, I saw my friends wailing and screaming. “Venu, oh Venu!” I went in as quickly as I came up. Again down up in a few seconds. I knew this was my last time up. My Grandpa used to say that water gives you three chances only.
I was in for the final time, flinging my little arms desperately. I thought this would be the end. All the intelligence gathered in this ripe age of nine years would go wasted. I was stuck in mid-water like a hapless balloon. Suddenly, I felt a kick on my back. Another one repeated and the force was pushing me to the side. I felt the ground, instinctively stood up and walked to the wall edge before collapsing on the low side.

My saviour was Subramanian, my dear friend who had furiously pushed me up the low wall. I lay flat on the sill and he pressed my tummy to release a fountain of water. Mani didn’t know how to swim either – it’s a wonder how he saved me that day. I owe my life to my dear departed friend. Miss you so much.

That day, my fear of water went away and my resolution grew even stronger. I knew that water would be my greatest friend. It would not harm me. I mentally turned into a Jalpara (Merboy).
And the rest, as they say, is history!

 
 

My very own Jalpari


 

She was about eight years old when we went on our Goan holiday. It was a long-awaited vacation after a hectic year. We checked in at the lovely Royal Goan beach club at Sinqerium. A morning dip at the sea and a cool evening splash at the resort’s oval pool was the new norm from day one.

The Wife promised herself that she would learn swimming in a week, made a deal with the coach and started her classes in earnest. Aabana would joyfully enter the bay pool and thrash around, imitating her mom and shrieking endlessly. I was content seeing both ladies, and settled with a beer and plans of a nice dip, later. I had purchased a designer swimsuit – a definite improvement from the Tonakela days, I guess.

Tragedy struck on day four. The little one wanted to join me for cycling after our swim. She sat on the crossbar in the front and we were pedalling along happily, a baby tune in tandem from the li’l one. Once in a while, she would let out a caution, look daddy – a cow, cockroach, an earthworm!

Suddenly there was a shriek from her as she said, “My legggg!” I braked instantly. I knew that she had brought her left foot into the wheel. I bent down to see – miraculously, it was just a bruise on the ankle. Thank God! I sent my prayers, dropped the bike and jumped into an auto, straight to the local doctor’s clinic, nearby.

The Wife came panting and gave me a stern look. But I was made of sterner stuff and didn’t vaporise. Our dinner plans were cancelled and the resorts talented guitar singers came in to console the baby. Being an RCI top executive, the Wife was getting the entire resort’s attention while pampering the li’l injured doll. My beer was served warm though. It must have been some new instructions to teach the marauder on wheels a lesson!

Armed with a plastic bag around the left foot, Abu entered the baby pool in the morning. “Atta girl, you are my aqua nymph. Not afraid of water despite your injury,” I said proudly. In her high drama mode, she announced, “Daddiyu and mummiyu, I shall learn swimming when we go back home, in our pool. This injury won’t hold me back.”

We were proud, beaming parents. I glanced for a quick pardon and the loving Wife smiled and signalled to the waiter for my beer. My beer was served in two minutes flat with some roasted cashew nuts. I love Goan barmen, as they are so instinctive. The week passed by quickly, and the Wife turned out to be champion swimmer, managing to reach the length of the pool with some real smart strokes.

We were back in Bangalore. It was still summer. The evenings were now spent at the Natasha Golf View Apartments’ pool, where we lived. Abu stepped gingerly into the pool with her bandaged leg in a plastic bag. Some habits never leave, you see. The wound had healed well, but the protection was mandatory. A little bit of coaching and coaxing did the trick and she was wading in the 2 feet shallow side of the pool, but with one hand on the wall edge. She came into my hands and practised few boat flaps and said, Daddiyu, I will learn by myself.”

With the wall as a support, she put her face into the water and started to learn the breath-control, flapping, kicking techniques. She wouldn’t let me near her, though. She was strong-willed like her mom.

Weeks and a few months passed by. She became a fixed entity by the low wall now. She would go through the regular motions, smiling, shouting and enjoying, but all alone. The plastic bag was discarded long ago, thankfully.

Time passed and another two years went by. Abu kept swimming along the wall on the shallow side. I thought, “Let it be, at least she is fond of water. It’s just a matter of time before these kids pick up.” One fine evening, she completed the same wall strokes paddling her little legs, gave a huge smile and called out, “Daddiyu, see me swimming, am going across.” She was off the next moment, with expert synchronised strokes, so effortless. As she reached the middle of the pool, my heart froze and my legs turned to jelly. With a great effort, I took a step forward, ready to pace across.

I tried to call out, but my words did not come. She reached the other end of the deep side and I remembered Tonakela again! Abu yelled with happiness, over the din of the other swimmers. “See I can swim so well, don’t ask me how. It just came naturally to me. Wait, am coming over to you.”

She started again. It was the most beautiful sight – she was like a Jalpari, with the most elegant movements. There were hardly any ripples but the speed was evident. She reached me and jumped on to my chest, grinning. All I could do was to add a few drops of blissful, salty tears to the gurgling aqua around.

A question that I ask even today, after 20 years, is this. “How, all of a sudden, could she swim like a water fairy?” Well, some explanations are never to be sought after, I guess. Maya!

Well, Truth is stranger than Fiction

 

Venu Rao

Peacock Hospitality

22nd May 2020

 

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