Almost every person has a couple of things that they would want to do before they die, a bucket list. Some of the things on the list might sound crazy, possibly even stupid, but what’s life without a little thrill?
When I first got to know about scuba divers on a NatGeo show, I was 10 years old. I was really amazed at the depth at which they would observe underwater life and interact with the fish, feeding them tiny morsels of fish food. I would gawk at them in awe and ask my mom, “Amma, once I get older, can I try that? It looks super fun!” My mom would nonchalantly reply, saying, “No ma, scuba diving is a very risky thing to do, and I wouldn’t allow you to do it.” I am everything to my mom, and like many other moms, she wouldn’t want me doing something risky and getting myself into trouble. I left it at that, slightly disappointed.
We generally travel every year as a family to some place abroad. We happened to travel to Bali in Indonesia last summer for a few days. I was browsing through the travel itinerary, and I saw a column titled, “Watersports Tanjung Benoa”. There I saw it – scuba diving. I asked my dad if I could go scuba diving, without my mom knowing. Dad said, “Cool! Let’s do this.” Therefore, we devised a lie, ditched mom at the resort, and took a cab to Tanjung Benoa.
My dad was kind of reluctant to come along because he was scared himself, I suppose. So we got one ticket to go diving. I was asked to move into a room to change into diving apparel. Diving is generally done in pairs or triplets for safety, especially with respect to first-timers. My partners were a couple of college-going girls from Miami, who, despite the fact that they were first-timers, were surprisingly relaxed about the entire thing. We had a casual chat as the boat took the three of us to the middle of the water body. We were accompanied by a boatman and three trained scuba divers who would take action in case of an emergency, and also accompany each of us into the water.
The suit was basically tight-fitting clothing to prevent any water from seeping in. Once we got to the drop point, we were taught certain basic symbols for communication in the water. They attached oxygen tubes and fit a pipe connected to an air-tight mask, so I had to breathe via my mouth. Getting acquainted with that took me some time. Next, they tied weights around my waist so that I would sink freely. They asked the three of us to jump into the water. We all got in one by one. Without warning, in a matter of seconds, the instructors adjusted the pressure on my knob and I started sinking downwards.
I freaked out, gasping for breath, feeling the pressure slowly build around me. It was as if I had been pushed face first into a basin filled with water and wasn’t allowed to raise my head. I felt like I was losing the life in me, and I started feeling somewhat giddy and traumatized. Everything was becoming dark. I signalled that I wanted to go up, my eyes were widening, and I was panicking. The guy who was accompanying me was calmly smiling at me as if he were enjoying my plight. He then signalled to me to relax and take slow breaths. I tried thinking of calm thoughts and took slow gulps of the air supplied via the tube. Finally, after 3 minutes of agony, I started calming down and got used to it. I felt peaceful, floating around at what seemed to be the ocean bed. I could see clearly now. Schools of multicoloured fish were swimming by, varieties of plants and weeds on the floor; it was a wonderful sight to see. My instructor signalled me to paddle like a fish and move about.
I had a waterproof camera and some bread with me so I could capture and feed the fish. The bread was sealed in a plastic packet attached to my apparel, and the instructor asked me to open it. As I took out the bread, a dozen little fish came over to my hand and started nibbling off the bread. It felt like soft pinches when they also started nibbling on my fingers and nudged against my hand. There was this one fish that stayed with me throughout the entire journey, constantly nibbling on my feet. I even spotted a clownfish that looked exactly like Nemo from Finding Nemo! I tried all sorts of silly things, like trying to lie flat on the ocean floor, striking a meditative pose and what not. On the way, I also met my newly made friends from Miami, waddling about with their guides, and also took snaps with them.
My oxygen was running low, and the instructor signalled that we had to go up. I was dejected that it had to end so fast, but I had no choice. So up we went, and back on the boat. When I got back up and took off the mask, I realised how much of a difference breathing air normally via the nose makes; I took huge gulps of fresh air with great satisfaction.
Sinking in the abyss of the ocean made me fear the worst. I was paranoid about the oxygen tank breaking and the water seeping into my suit and nostrils. I asked myself, “What if I don’t make it back up alive?” I tested death and in the process, fully lived in that moment. Putting oneself through ordeals, similar to this or otherwise, builds character, which is why I wouldn’t hesitate to do this all over again.
Till date, my mom does not know about this, and if she does, she’ll kill me. And that’s scarier than suffocating due to lack of oxygen, 30-40 feet underwater. It was truly an unforgettable and a once in a lifetime experience; intimidating, yet exhilarating.