As a swimming pool, it was primitive. But for us kids it was the only solace to beat the temperatures above 45 degrees C in Chanda. There were no blue tiles on its floor to make it look pretty then. Neither was the path from the changing rooms paved properly, to ensure that sand didn’t get into the water. During monsoons it was commonplace to hear screams and shrieks when a toad or frog found its way into the water. But the pool was functional and we didn’t care how it was maintained, as long as we could have an hour of splashing around in the cool water on a hot day.
I remember how one summer day my mother decided that we would learn to swim. Neither she nor any of us had ever ventured into a pool. She called a friend of hers who knew how to swim, and together we trudged to the pool around 4.30 in the afternoon. The official time in the pool for women was between 5.30 to 6.30 p.m. The pool was locked, but my mother’s friend was running the Staff Club then, and had some influence. So she walked up to the caretaker’s quarter and demanded the keys. And we had the pool to ourselves for a while before others came in.
It was the 1980s and things were pretty conservative in this small campus. Swimsuits were unthinkable. And so we all brought shorts and T-shirts. I was initially scared we might be thrown out for inappropriate gear, but there was no one to check who was wearing what. When the ladies entered I found some Bengali aunties step into the water wearing nightgowns! I wondered how they would move their legs in the water with all that cloth tangled around their limbs. Maybe they’d learnt swimming in the village ponds wearing sarees. For they swam without a care in the world.
After a few weeks of clinging to the pipeline at the shallow edge of the pool we learnt to swim reasonably well. My ingenious mother had stitched the sides of a thick khadi kurta and converted it into my swimsuit, without bothering about its weight once it was soaked in water. I distinctly remember my mother carrying the bag on our way to the pool, and then telling me to carry it on the way back when it was far heavier with the soaked clothes. We always argued about it. She was great at floating away, while I splashed around, still unable to do more than a breadth in one stretch. I never good at sports and didn’t have the stamina.
A few months later, I saw all the other children diving and swimming in the deep. And I wanted to do that too. But I was scared to make the move. So one afternoon, I decided to swim along the edge between the shallow and deep side. If I got tired I could still stand, I reasoned. Midway between swimming that breadth, I felt tired and decided to stand in the pool.
What I didn’t know was that the edge between the shallow and deep side was a steep slope. And as the pool wasn’t maintained well enough, there was green slimy moss growing on the swimming floor. The moment I placed my feet down, I slipped towards the deep side. I panicked and started to drown.
Thankfully my mother spotted my flailing arms and swam there just in time to pull me towards the safe side. It was a long time after that rescue that I went back to swimming.
Life is like that. Walking on the edge is a slippery slope. It often makes more sense to jump into the deep side, and kick away in the water till you find your rhythm. One just needs to toss fear aside and take that leap.
Featured painting is Swimmer in yellow by Gareth Lloyd Ball