Saturday, 29 April 2017

A Swim in the Sea with Dad

I must have been about ten or twelve years old then. We used to live in Juhu, close to the beach. Juhu was not crowded in those days and the sand was clean and white and the sea was blue and had not lost its pristine beauty.

The sea fascinated me but I did not know how to swim and so I was afraid of getting into the water. Dad, on the other hand, was an avid swimmer and spent long hours in the sea. I usually sat on the shore and watched him swimming from a distance. Dad gave me some rudimentary lessons in swimming and also taught me how to float in the sea. “The sea is your mother” he used to say. “Let it caress you. Don’t ever be afraid of it.” I felt a little more at home in the water after that but my fear of the ocean never left me.

And that fear turned into horror when the monsoons arrived because then the sea became stormy and rough. Gigantic breakers rushed towards the shore with a deafening roar and the currents were very strong. Fishermen did not venture into the sea during the monsoon season nor did swimmers go close to the water

But for Dad the monsoons were the best time to go for a swim in the sea. He loved the huge breakers and the strong winds. He ventured out into the stormy sea every morning. I looked apprehensively as Dad entered the stormy water. ““Don’t swim Dad! The sea looks rough!” I often said to him meekly but he looked unperturbed. “I like to swim when the sea is rough, son!” he always said. And then one day he invited me to swim with him “Why don’t you come along with me? It will be fun! Are you afraid?” That sounded like a challenge and, fool that I was, I accepted it. “We won’t venture out too far!” He reassured me, seeing that I had turned a little pale at the sight of the huge, breakers. I stepped into waist deep water and began to paddle around sheepishly. I had no intention of venturing any deeper. But then a huge breaker caught us both unawares and dragged us out into the open sea. The currents were unbelievably strong and we were pulled relentlessly away from the shore. I thrashed around in panic but to no avail. Within minutes we were a furlong away from the beach.

To this day I can remember the feeling of utter panic and terror that gripped me. I was sure this was the end. The wind was howling like a banshee in our ears and the waves looked enormous. One minute we were in a trough and the other minute we were on the crest of a mountainous wave. I was on the verge of tears. “Relax, son!” Dad said as he swam up to me. “There is nothing we can do about the current! It is too strong for us!” “We will drown!” I yelled back in panic. “Not if we keep our heads, son! Never say die! Just relax! The sea is like your mother! Seawater is buoyant. If you panic and thrash around you will surely go under. Do not worry! I am with you! Float! The tide always turns! And when it does, the sea will push us back to the shore on its own accord! Now let us sing!”

I couldn’t believe what Dad was doing. To my utter astonishment, he began to sing some revolutionary song at the top of his lungs. He joked. He clowned around in the water. He floated merrily. There was not an ounce of anxiety in his demeanour as we drifted further and further away from the shore. The beach by now looked a mile away. My panic returned. I started thrashing around once again. “Thrashing around will not help, son” Dad said gently. “ One must learn to cooperate with the tide! Remember, the tide always turns! The idea is not to loose your head. Stay cool!”

A small crowd of people had collected on the shore and were pointing at us and waving their arms frantically. They knew that we were in trouble. Just then I saw a man walking towards the water carrying a kayak. He began to row towards us. I heaved a sigh of relief. “Someone is coming for us Dad!” I shouted joyfully. “We are saved!”

Dad was silent. He did not look too pleased. That surprised me. I pointed to the boat once again as it bobbed up and down as it moved towards us. The man rowing the boat was a European. I waved out to him and he waved back. But Dad looked impassive. When the kayak was near enough I swam towards it with as fast as I could. But Dad stopped me. “Wait, son!” he yelled. “We are alright! We don’t need help!” The man in the boat was an Englishman. “Are you mad? Do you want to drown and kill the lad too? You must be fools to venture out to sea at this time of the year! Come on, get into the boat!” he yelled as he rowed closer to us. I reached out to the boat and clung to its side.

“We don’t need that boat, son” Dad said to me. There was a note of finality in his voice. It was almost an order. “Let go off the boat!”

I was nonplussed. “Come on, get into the boat,” the Englishman yelled above the roar of the sea. “Get into the boat or you will die!”

But Dad was unmoved. “We do not need you, Englishman!” he told the fellow politely. “Leave us alone! We can look after ourselves!” The Englishman was furious. “I risked my life rowing out in this weather! And you are refusing help! Who do you think you are, a hero of some kind? Do you want your son to die?” he yelled.

“We will survive! Now go back before your boat overturns and we have to rescue you!” Dad said coolly. The Englishman was furious: “Go to hell! Die! You Indians are crazy!” he yelled and began to row towards the shore.

I looked at Dad in consternation. Why had he refused help when it was so gladly offered? He laughed and began to sing again. I was sure death was now inevitable.

We must have floated helplessly in the sea for almost two hours. Dad did not stop singing. He kept close to me and did not let me drift too far from him. “People drown in the sea not because the water pulls them under, but because they panic and start thrashing around and tire themselves. Whatever the circumstances, Son, never panic! And never give up! Remember, there is always a way out of every crisis!”

I did not believe a word of what he was saying till something miraculous happened. The tide turned. As if by magic we began slowly to be pushed back towards the shore. We were by now more than a mile away from where we had entered the sea. Dad looked at me and smiled.

“Let us swim for the shore now! The tide will push us back!”

Our progress towards to the shore after that was fast. Till today I can remember the feeling of exhilaration as we touched terra firma. We were both exhausted and fell on the wet sand in a heap. Almost instantaneously I fell asleep from exhaustion.

When I woke up, Dad was reclining on his elbow on the sand and looking at me with a smile. He got up, stretched out his hand, and pulled me up to my feet.

“There will be many such moments in your life when you are a full-grown man, when the tides of circumstance and ill luck will swallow you up and overwhelm you! Just remember this - never panic! Float! Have faith! Never give up! And remember - the tide always turns!”

It is more than forty years since he died. And the ensuing decades have not been without ups and downs. I have made grave mistakes in my professional and private life. I have reaped a bitter harvest and I have deserved it. On many occasions I have been swept out into the deep and thought I would not survive. But Dad’s words have always rung in my ears and somehow I have pulled through. I have floated as the wind howled and the sea buffeted me mercilessly. In those moments of darkness I have heard his gentle voice calling out to me: “Don’t ever panic! And never give up!”


  1. Loved It? Your Father Was A Great Man!

  2. I truly loved this one ....... it's my favourite one dad .......
    You n Dadaji are truly great.

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