Dad and mom are great swimmers. While I was growing up, they told me stories of childhood adventures with their siblings and cousins in the family pond and nearby streams. As a child, I always wanted to swim myself and have all that fun, but living in a small apartment in the city didn’t help my cause.
Nevertheless, I splashed about in the bath tub pretending to be an ace swimmer. Trips to the beach would invariably involve sessions where I would swim energetically in the vast ocean, with dad holding me afloat from the side. On visits to India during school vacations, I would watch my cousins leap into ponds with admiration, and imagine myself doing the same feats. They would egg me on, count to three and shout for me to jump in with them, but on ‘three’ I would never make it; my feet would plant themselves on terra firma, and I would return home dry and envious.
When I decided much later in life to join swimming classes, I was full of excitement, imagining myself enjoying pool parties with friends and jumping to the rescue of drowning babies. My lessons were to start at a local school pool, which was open to the public during school vacation. I found out after I enrolled that lessons would be held alongside classes for kids, which immediately took away some of the charm—fumbling around in water half-naked, with kids looking on didn’t figure in my imagined glory.
Anyway, I didn’t do too well in Class One. For one thing, there were too many kids and they were too damn good. They knew they were good and kept showing off their flawless fancy strokes, intimidating me with their silly smirks. For another, the instructor started off with having us (fortunately for me, there were 2 other goofy adults like me) hold on to the side of the pool and paddle our feet to stay afloat. I don’t have to say how lame that looked beside the kiddie pros zooming through the water around us like dolphins.
Class Two was only marginally better. This time the instructor wanted us to do the same paddling around, but, on the count of three, we had to let go and stay afloat by ourselves. As I knew they would, my hands affixed themselves to the wall of the pool at ‘three’. It’s like my brain always has a problem conveying to the rest of my body that such cues mean to induce a propulsive motion rather than strong adhesion to solid surfaces. The instructor tried to forcibly pry me off. I sank like a pile of steel rods and drank half the pool. She wasn’t pleased and I wasn’t encouraged.
Class Three focused on using our legs to kick powerfully and propel ourselves forward. Now I have really long legs and on the best of days I’m clumsy, so I kept having visions of some teeny swimming pro inadvertently (or spitefully) coming into my path and flying out of the pool upon contact with my kangaroo legs. The instructor was rather disappointed at my feeble feet-waving endeavors. She pointed out little girls half my size kicking like frenzied frogs across the length of the pool.
I made some progress in Class Four though. After more spluttering and gasping, I managed to figure out how to stay afloat as long as my face was submerged. Since that was not a comfortable condition, my floating sessions were brief and comical. Nevertheless I kept at it, and by Class Seven or Eight I could swim the breadth of the shallow side. That was when the instructor decided to teach me how to regulate my breathing. She showed me a series of elaborate turns of the head and explained when to inhale and when to exhale. I always got them wrong. I must have inhaled more water that month than I drank in an entire week.
School reopened the next week and that was the end of my swimming lessons. I wouldn’t say I swim now, but I do have my fun in the pool occasionally with my keep-going-as-long-as-you-can-hold-your-breath technique and no one suspects my humble beginnings. Did I mention that my dad and mom are great swimmers?