Thursday, February 19, 2009

Swimming pool tales

Shivaji Park was being swept inside out today by a posse of some dozen fluorescent orange jacketed sweepers. The dust flew from the south end of the Park to settle in the west and from the west to settle in the north. Once the sweepers had got the dust to migrate and settle, Shivaji Park was able to breathe without a kerchief to its nose.

The occasion for such meticulous cleanliness was major. Mananiya Uddhavsahebji Balasahebji Thackerayji is scheduled to open the renovated Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Olympic Swimming Pool today. The pool has been closed for at least four years. Just as everybody thought BMC, which runs the pool, was making secret plans to sell off the land to yet another mall-maker, here was a hoarding with father Thackeray and son Thackeray, announcing its re-opening.

The MGMO was said to be the first olympic size swimming pool in Asia or something equally impressive. At least four generations of Shivaji Parkites and their neighbours have swum in its chlorine-scented blue-tiled depths. Being eminently affordable, its surface was always a knobbly carpet of bobbing heads.

My own relationship with water has never been cosy. Father once took us on a month-long learn-to-swim holiday in Pune. I saw intrepid Pune matrons leap into the Tilak talav clad in nine-yard saris. I saw toddlers splash around happily in the Law College swimming pool where Father took us for morning lessons. But nothing convinced me that water didn't pull you down and keep you under till there was no reason to come up. So while my athletic younger sister took to the water like a fish, I stood on the edge every day, muttering one-two-three and doing nothing about it.

One day two hefty arms picked me up from behind and threw me in. I came up gasping and stared incredulously at grandfather Mandke, a neighbour, who'd done the deed. He laughed and told my father that's the way to do it. I never spoke to him again but I was in the water. Too late. By the time I had dared to lift my feet off the swimming pool floor while holding on to the bar for dear life, the holiday was over.

Back home, I was enrolled in the evening ladies' batch at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Olympic Swimming Pool. We were taught to the accompaniment of hit songs. "Yeh raat yeh chaandni phir kahan" etc. Talat Mehmood sounding like the ripples on the water.

My coach was a gentleman (?) called Mr Bathena. He put me through a rudimentary breast stroke and then decided to teach me the butterfly stroke. He told my parents that I was made for this complex stroke. I realised soon enough what I was made for. I was made for touching in three different places. The breast stroke and freestyle offered touch opportunities in only one place-- the stomach.

Fear of water had disappeared. Fear of man took over. I don't remember what excuse I gave my parents for wanting to quit. Whatever it was, it was not the truth.

If I'm pushed into water now (only pools; seas pull you down and keep you under etc) I'm sure I'll get by with the crude breast stroke Mr Bathena was kind enough to teach me before progressing to more ambitious plans. But I don't think I want to be tested.

1 comment:

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