I do not know how to swim.
We have been told about the Tower Of Babel. Poets have waxed eloquent about the futility of language in expressions; the futility of words to convey what we felt at a given moment. I was not a very ardent believer of that philosophy or line of thought. Yes, they were correct, but to a certain extent only. Maybe, a skilled communicator with his vocabulary, tone and examples can overcome most of the hindrances he faces in communicating a single idea.
I think I have been beaten, fair and square. How do I convey fear? How do I convey the bizarre mix of fear and courage, of terror and presence of mind, of sheer adrenaline-laced activity that was yet strangely performed with a very clear, limpid thought process? I tried composing it in my head in trying to pen it down and failed; miserably.
But then, only when I try will I succeed. So here goes, my narration ( or a feeble attempt at one) of an incident which probably should have made a major dent in my life.
So, we went to Gokarna. Five, very unlikely, people bunched together. Five MBA students, a part of a rigorous academic schedule, who scooted out between their end term examinations. One of whom (?) knew nothing about what was lying in store for him ahead.
It was a nice, uneventful trip. We reached the beach, parked ourselves on a boulder and took in the view. It will suffice to say, at this point that : I was , err… ahem… not entirely at the peak of my cognitive abilities. In retrospect I can say, I was goaded(a little), influenced by an underlying emotional conflict or I was simply ‘trying to take it all in ’. Whatever the cause maybe, I decided that I could walk across the stretch of rocks to reach the small islet that stretched a little into the sea. [This is where my very first line makes a lot of sense: I do not know how to swim .]
I consider myself adventurous but never reckless. When I try a new activity , I don’t shy away from all the safety gear or the safety instructions issued or giving up if I think it is beyond my physical prowess.
Using the aid of the photograph: to the untrained eye, it will seem like , a slightly risky but an achievable task. However, when I stepped forward I realized, with some mild disappointment, that it was not going to be so straightforward and I was better off backing out of it. The seemingly flat, straight sheet of rock face that lead to the islet was actually, on closer scrutiny, three independent, not-so-flat, jagged and most importantly well spaced set of rocky walls, and we could only see the tip of the walls.
I was in my jeans and tee-shirt and had my personal belongings with me, because I wasn’t aiming to get wet at all. I stopped advancing after studying the terrain and just stood there taking in the angry waters lashing away at the rocks and the huge sprays that could be termed ‘ intimidating’ . Before starting my walk back, I decided to pull out my phone , take a snap of what I saw and be done with it. Alas!! The sea had other plans for me.
Despite my dependable Woodlands® the wave that came, almost out of no-where, easily swept me off my feet and I fell backwards, head first between the first two sheets of rock. Luckily I didn’t hit any rock and unluckily the water was deep and I started drowning, quickly & effortlessly.
Now what I am going to describe is purely in retrospect, because honestly, I have no clear idea of what I did precisely in those few minutes. The few minutes that felt like an hour. Survival instincts kicked in and I kicked out , frantically searching for a foothold, hand hold, any hold. But the seething, swirling water and the sudden impact lead to disorientation and I had no idea which way was up. I was quickly running out of breath, and I could sense that my hands have already been bruised in my attempt to hold on to the rocks. The water was dirty and more than once I felt (and shuddered) as I made contact with the slimy substance ( or creatures( ??) ) that abounded in it.
Finally my fingers stuck to a jagged hole. And I surfaced. (Now what happened again happened in less than 3 seconds). Simultaneously, I thought of my phone and if I should go front and search for it (futile though it may sound) and how do I get to the nearest dry spot. But before I could even suck in a healthy round of air , another huge wave came crashing and tore (yes, literally : small chunks were missing from the inside of my finger-tips) my fingers away from the rocks and I went tumbling over the second wall of rock and between the second and the third wall of rock. Now even as I was part of the tumble-dry cycle of the washing machine, the first thought and the first vestige of panic that surfaced in my head was that , IF I miss getting out of this now, the next wave will put me out in the open sea, and I will simply have no chance of surviving, at all.
Interestingly, my friends, from the distance, had no idea of my predicament. They saw me floundering; they saw my head bob up a couple of times and decided, ‘The vain chap! He did not listen to us. He had a fall, he is all wet , he will get up, come back , we will laugh at him for some time, he will be all sober and sulk for a while’ . NO ONE realized that I was literally, dying.
Till now it was just me, muscle and bones, trying to get back on solid land, now pure adrenaline kicked in. I doubt I was thinking of air or hands, or fingers or toes or shins. I kicked and flailed furiously and found a small mound of rock, I dug in my finger as deep as they would allow. During the entire incident, I felt no pain. (The pain, oh the sweet pain came later. J) I dug in fast and held on to dear life, scarcely breathing. The next wave came and I felt my grip loosening and I realized again with rising panic, that I cannot survive a few more of the onslaughts.
I burrowed in further and looked for a foothold, found one, kicked myself upwards, literally dragging my body out of the water ( similar to how you climb back into a raft, except it was not soft inflated rubber but not-so smooth and unforgiving rock) , just as the third wave came crashing and started pulling me away, but I stuck on, weathered that wave and scrambled out and jumped out to a rock-face partially hidden from the waves. The ill-prepared jump lead to a bad landing, but broken bones were the least of my worries at that stage. I reached the safety of the rock.
For the first time, after those interminably long minutes, no one was breathing down my neck. My heart beat slowed down, I took in long and thankful gulps of air and I leaned back on the filthy chair shaped rock and stared at the sky, eyes glazed over. My friend had slowly walked over from a safer, drier end and urged me to get up and join them ( he had no clue of what I had just been through) . I asked him for a few minutes, and evaluated my situation. All my muscles were aching, both my feet were hurting, at multiple places and both my hands had scores of cuts and bleeding freely , and I suspected some major damage to my left wrist.
I asked my friend to take a snap of me (the shutterbug never dies, I guess). And I got up and slowly, painfully, and very very cautiously walked back to the actual beach. I went to the toilet of the hotel and when I stripped out of my wet clothes I looked like a leech therapy patient, there was blood on my chest and stomach, from my knees and shins and my hands looked like the chopping board of butchers. No broken bones, no scar leaving injuries and most important of all: I was alive.