My mother was very particular that both her children should learn swimming. We didn’t have any swimming pools in Mulky our town… the nearest one was in Mangalore, 30 kms away. Travelling to Mangalore just to learn swimming was definitely out of our reach. As Plato, the Philosopher said, Necessity is the mother of invention, so like most other children in our town, I too learnt to swim in a pond!!
Right behind our house were 40 acres of sprawling paddy fields and had 3 huge wells or ponds, I along with my brother and cousins learnt to swim in these big wells.
Of the 3 we the pond we used most often was close to 20 to 25 feet deep at the deeper side, and 4-6 feet deep on the shallow side, and atleast 40-45 feet in diameter, only experienced swimmers ventured to the deeper side. “Gundida guvel” the “deep well” was what all of us stayed clear of.
Swimming in a well is a thrilling experience; one has to experience it to know what I mean. We had to walk through the paddy fields on the narrow path and a slight slip would mean getting into slush. The fear of the cobras which inhabited the fields made it even more thrilling. On one side of the pond was the “Naga Bana” which was the grove considered to be the resting place of the Snake God, which our family worshiped. This groove had many thorny flowering plants and added to the beauty of the place. Any kind of defacing of the grove was considered a sacrilege, so the area around this pond was kept clean.
Our substitute for the tube used in city swimming pools was the “Pottu Tarai”, 2 hollow coconuts tied to each other, and tied around your waist, which helped keep us afloat. The other option to tie a rope around the waist and someone would hold it standing on the side of the well. This rope was our life line; it is either held tight or left loose to let the learner a little more freedom, depending on the swimmers capabilities.
A beginner is expected to hold on the sides of the pond and just kick the feet…then after one or two days we were expected to move our arms too. An uncle or an older cousin will hold on to the coconuts and ensured that I didn’t sink and walk with me around the pond. I was a short kid and even 4 feet depth was scary, as my feet didn’t touch the ground. After the first couple of days, I had managed to learn to swim with the rope around the waist.
There were many terms and conditions, if it rained heavily; we were not allowed to go swimming. We had to do all the chores that uncle asked for through the week. We also had to wait at least an hour after having food or breakfast and we could stay for a maximum of 2 hours in the water. After the swimming, when we reached home shivering a hot water bath and great snacks awaited us.
One Saturday afternoon 5 or 6 of us cousins in the age group of 10 to 14 years, got together and went to the pond. I was the youngest among them and was the only one who needed help, by now I had graduated to swimming with the rope. That particular day, uncle was in no mood and after my 3rd round, he wanted to go home. I didn’t pay heed to his orders; after some cribbing, he agreed to allow me to swim a little longer. At one point I realized that my brother was swimming very close to me and was looking unusually concerned, for some reason I turned and looked at uncle and realized that he wasn’t holding the rope. When the realization hit me that I was swimming independently, I panicked and sank. After spluttering and drinking some water, I was pulled to the side of the pond. By then I had consumed enough water and my pride and confidence had taken a severe beating. After that day, it took a lot of will power to go back for swimming…
That day my uncle too learnt a lesson…. that he had to be really alert with young kids in water… and I learnt that security was only an illusion;
All these memories came rushing back during our recent holiday to Thailand. I felt the same kind of panic when I got into the water near Phi Phi islands.
Here are two photographs of the place:
Phi Phi Islands are situated 40 km south-east of Phuket, we were taken there on a big boat and were given an hours’ time to get into the water at the Maya Bay. There was a great rush as everyone wanted to get into the emerald green waters. Once I got into the water I realized that it was at least 10-12 feet deep, boy! was I happy I had a life jacket on!
Worth a visit if you are ever in Thailand.