Sunday, April 11, 2010
The jump, white-waters and other tales
So I jumped.
From an arguably 30ft-high cliff into the 60ft-deep Ganga, I, a non-swimmer, jumped—not knowing if I’d come out alive, but fully knowing that if I didn’t do this now, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.
Somehow, what started off as just a sporting challenge became representative of how I live or would live my life. Don’t things like this happen to you sometime?
The weekend trip to Shivpuri in March-end, 2009, marked the beginning of my new life—one where I stop wanting to do things and simply plan and do them. And boy, was it a start!
It was one of those times that one just simply needed to get away… from life, from work, from everything that represented living in chains and fulfilling one’s role in society. At least, that what it was for me… What motivations the other 11 people in the group had, isn’t mine to speculate.
We head out in the dead of Friday night in a 12-seater tempo (I would not suggest this as a mode of travel!), after work—tired and excited at the same time. Most of us were going rafting for the first time… and most of us did NOT know how to swim! Silly of you… some of my other friends had commented… all the while turning a pale-ish green in colour. Maybe so… but there is actually no feeling like the one you get when you know you’ve pushed your limit and succeeded. Of course, at that time pushing my limit meant rafting out into the tumultuous Ganga, riding the waves, with the very-real possibility of being dunked in water. I did not know about the cliff!
The ride to Shivpuri was relatively quiet. I think it was a combination of tiredness and that of feeling out one’s fellow travelers with the sound of the purring (and occasionally spluttering) tempo engine in the background. I don’t know if it’s only me, but somehow the usual, mundane and often irritating sound of a motor engine assumes a different buzz, one of excitement (if you please) when I know that there’s adventure ahead, and the sound seems oddly fitting...akin to a drum roll leading up the climax of an act!
After hours of odd postures and innumerable failed attempts to comfortably, or even uncomfortably, get some sleep, we reached Shivpuri around 5 the morning. It was pitch dark and no one at Camp Paddler’s Zone had woken up. It was perfect!
Canvas tents spread out across the riverbank, the glorious sound of rushing, gurgling water, the rocks lining the streams, the vast expanse of the Ganga sparkling black in the fading moonlight…coming out (visually) of the V formed by distant mountains on both sides, a cute little bridge across the stream, and the sudden onslaught of camera flashes from all sides, excited squeals of laughter and delight, followed by more squeals when some of us dipped our feet into the ice-cold water and immediately jumped out, the amused expressions of some of the more “experienced” members of the group… Yes, I was there and it was perfect!
As dawn broke, the camp began to stir with life. We were allotted our respective tents (two in each… and no cross-gender sharing…ahan, right!). The morning broke in with some pleasant breeze, a slight nip in the air and some saccharine sweet chai, the kind without which any road trip in India would be incomplete. Over steaming plastic glasses of sweetness we chalked out plans of heading out into the water later the same morning. A couple of hours later, we all trudged back to the tempo and headed towards Marine Drive (Shivpuri has its own version of the place).
After getting our rafting gear together (life jacket, check; helmet, check; paddle, check!) we trekked down to the waterfront. Our motley group of 12 was joined by a bunch of 10 guys. We all had to be divided into three rafts, with one instructor each. As the groups were formed, one poor soul from the other group had to join our raft (he would probably not forget the ride till his final days, but let’s not get into that). The instructors set about yelling out the instructions to a bunch of what would seem like overgrown kids (You see… no matter how old we are, put us in a group in the outdoors, and we’ll behave like we never graduated high school!).
The instructions were simple—sit on the edge of the raft (are you kidding me!!!! I don’t know how to swim…I want to sit well-shielded in the middle) or else the raft will topple over at the first major wave (on seconds thoughts, the edge is absolutely fine!). Tuck both your feet below the raft bars, one in front and the other behind you (finally, at least ONE place I can hang on to…phew). Hold on to the paddle for dear life (you don’t say!). Right paddle means people on the right will paddle, left paddle for those on the left, paddle fast, normal means sit back and do nothing (get swept away by the waves you mean!), down means get in the boat and crouch. If we go under (hey!!!! Did I tell you I can’t swim… whatchya mean by that???!!!), don’t do anything and you’ll float right up (seriously man… have you any clue about human psychology. Jeez!!!), and so on and so forth.
After repeating the same instructions set at least four times, we finally got into our rafts. Mine was a blue one. There was another blue and a yellow floating with us. We slowly paddled out of the bank and into the middle of the stream. Now, I love the water, but I also fear it, so I was pretty much psyching out, till we saw the other rafts going awry with no sense of direction, while we were what it seemed like, on course. Our guide (whose name I have sadly forgotten…my sincere apologies, so I shall refer to him as Mr G) initiated us into the rafting experience with the war cry: Bolo Bolo Ganga Mai Ki…Jai…Jai…Jai. Of course, city slickers that we are, we kind of murmured it the first time, so he had us shout all over again. This time a bit into it, seven voices bellowed their cry for a good trip to the goddess Ganga, proudly holding up their paddles, ready to brave whatever the dark, deep, tumultuous river intended to throw at us.
But as luck would have it, the goddess was kind to us mere mortals. We were gently eased into the rafting experience with Good Morning. A class 1 rapid that gently swayed the raft—piece of cake, I thought, a bit disappointed that this wasn’t exactly turning out to be the extreme sport that one had expected to do. The next was The Three Blind Mice, a class 3 rapid, which although made us paddle a bit harder but wasn’t movie-making material. Feeling a bit complacent with ourselves, we went ahead to tackle Sweet Sixteen, which did what must every teenager does, made life difficult. As the class 3 rapid (there’s something wrong with the grading system, btw) came upon us, the raft slightly started to lose control as one wave after another hit us hard, the water spraying all over us. I was sitting in the middle, trying to establish some rhythmic paddling in the group, shouting out instructions that Mr G was giving us (sounds like I was the teacher’s pet no? Yuck). Hoarse voice be damned, I wanted to get out alive, so shouting the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 in a rhythmic cycle out the top of my lungs seemed to be the best way to “ensure” we got to safety.
A couple of rapids later, we hit the Roller Coaster. At the moment we were all feeling a bit smug. We’d done fairly well, the raft didn’t topple and I felt like King Triton, with my paddle that could change the course of the raft and, hence, my fate. Big words and even bigger thoughts! Floating a bit towards the rocky hills, Mr G yelled out for us to back-paddle really fast so as to avoid hitting the rocks. Following instructions and eyes riveted on the rocks, we (not Mr G, though) didn’t even see another rapid coming till a huge spray of water hit our raft really hard, throwing us all out of balance. Thankfully, we’d all had our feet firmly tucked in the front bar, and managed not to get thrown out. “Paddle forward, FAST! FAST! FAST!” yelled Mr G with an urgency that meant “your life depends on it”. Words not to be taken lightly. As wave after wave hit the raft, our grinning faces (finally!) and ferociously paddling arms met each of them with courage akin to David’s when fighting Goliath. Courage that was well rewarded with shouts of victory, as the raft was enveloped by the calm waters of the Ganga soon after. Of course, here the David was mainly Mr G, who stood with his broken paddle, bravely steering the raft (almost single-handedly. We were just dispensable facilitators), literally laughing in the face of danger, while giving out instructions to us. Phew! He was my hero.
As the raft followed the current of the river, we finally docked at the cliff. My friends were super excited at the thought of jumping off a 25-30ft-high cliff, just for kicks, but not me! In fact, I kept on telling them that I didn’t think I should do it. Of course, my courage had justifiably faltered when my “hero of the day” told me that it might not be a good idea for me to jump, so who was I to argue? As my friends climbed the hill to the jumping cliff, some started having second thoughts, while others (confounded, no-fear-of-God creatures that they were) couldn’t get to the cliff fast enough. I inched slowly and unsteadily to the top of the cliff, a little voice telling me that if I didn’t do this now, not only will my awesome trip be spoilt but I will also regret it for the rest of my life. As the penguins, oops…people, kept jumping off one-by-one, I mustered enough courage to go right up to the edge, but no more. “I don’t know how to swim. I’m not sure I want to die because of water filling up my lungs. What if I hit the rocks instead? Water would be a better way to die…” and so on and so forth were the one-sided conversations in my head.
A friend who was very enthusiastic backed out at the last moment. I almost followed suit, but then willed myself to stop and turn back. Several others pushed me aside to take the plunge themselves. As I continued the debate in my head, my instructor gave up on me and jumped (great confidence booster, huh?). And even though I was terrified, I could not but laugh at the hilarity of the hopeless situation. As I took my final steps towards the edge, still unsteady with indecision, two guys walked up behind me. Being strangers, they managed to replay almost every sentiment that was going on in my head. The strongest being: I don’t want to walk back a failure. It wasn’t just about this one jump, it was about how I have lived my life and how was I going to live it from now on. The jump was liberation. The jump was an assertion that I will not be bogged down. The jump was my life. With a final deep breath. Hands crossed over the chest, holding on to the life jacket straps. I jumped.
Eyes closed, till I realized I was being an idiot. Eyes opened, and all was a green blur. Then, just a micro-micro-second before I hit the water, time stopped. I saw the sky, the rocks, the trees clearer than I’d ever remembered seeing them; felt the air or, eerily enough, what felt like the lack of it, the thin stretched surface tension of the water; I heard silence, pure and haunting. And I don’t know how, but I literally felt the water break against my body, and just as soon as I was soaking all this in, the moment had passed. The gushing water enveloped me as a whole. My eyes, still open, saw the parted sea-green waters splash back to seal the void that had formed, and I recalled the scene from Ten Commandments when Moses closes the parting of the river after his followers have crossed.
As I bobbed up to the surface in a while, struggling to find my way to the nearest rock, I asked myself just one thing: What’s next?
Posted by Shruti Chakraborty at 10:51 PM