Journey into the unknown


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In 2009, I, my flatmate, and his office colleagues went for a surprise weekend trip to Vizag. We left Friday evening and returned Monday morning. The holiday was pretty much conventional, with us covering all the must-see places, which included two pretty beaches, a tour of an ancient Russian submarine, a trip in a cable car, and an absurdly beautiful view of sea and sky melting into one from the top of a lighthouse. And yes, a round-a-small-corner-of-the-sea trip in a motorboat. So far, so ho-hum. The ‘unknown’ I’m referring to is a new experience, one I’m unlikely to forget.

I’m usually not one for loud fun and frolic, being known more for being quiet in speech as well as actions. But I’m a sucker for peer pressure, and this time was no different. On the first day of the trip, all my friends enjoyed a long swim/jaunt in the sea pre-lunch while I sat on the sand staring across the shore and at the waves. Then we had a sumptuous lunch, where in the name of an aperitif, I had about 300 ml of red wine. The wine was delicious, and I’d no trouble quaffing it down. We had pleasant desultory chit-chat, and then my friends suggested we go for a second swim, and insisted I should step into the water and not just moisten the tips of my toes with sea spray. I was reluctant, but decided to give it a try. I waded somewhat deep into the water, and one of our gang started splashing me with water. That was pleasant, till someone ran up behind me and gave me a mighty push which dunked me head-first into the water, and I had my first taste of the unpleasant mixture of salt and dirt that is sea water. I was disoriented for a moment with this new sensation of being underwater for a few moments, and coughed and spluttered for a few more to regain breath while my friends laughed all around me and welcomed me into the club. Then, I decided to go for it full-steam, and started imitating the actions of my friends to experience the same sensations they were. One of the new things I learnt was that when a big wave is rising and speeding towards you crouch slightly and stand spread-eagled so you feel a hard physical impact as the wave hits you full-bore in the chest. I did this a few times, and realized the force of the sea (or rather, a microscopic portion of it), as I was almost thrown back repeatedly. Then, a new trick. When a huge wave is rising towards you, turn your back to it, and just as it is about to hit you, jump into the water and let the wave’s momentum carry your body to the shore like a piece of driftwood. I realized soon enough that the human body is far from being driftwood and that it barely moves a few feet in this onslaught. There were those who jumped in the opposite direction of the waves and their bodies just remained where they jumped while the waves went to shore and back as usual. As for me, in my enthusiasm, I became as feverish as the lemmings who decide that they can cross the ocean. I plunged in and for more than a few moments, this time, I was an underwater creature, the sounds of the gurgling water filling my ears, as I blindly crawled (I didn’t open my eyes underwater; not sure I missed much, but I did escape the burning red rash that formed on the whites of my friends’ eyes) like some shelled insect, on the sea bed. It was an eerie sensation, exploring this medium and experiencing the body’s survival mechanism switch on. We are all biological creatures whose chemical compositions dictate our lives. Thus, most of us mammals have one or more common traits that include the self-preservation instinct. I suppose this is an instrument of the sub-conscious and is thus automatic.


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I went underwater and tried to stay there longer and longer each time I plunged in. I’m sure some of the other tourists who were strolling in the area where we were swimming must’ve stared at me, gasping and panting, and felt, here’s a guy who almost drowned; no wonder there’s tight restrictions on swimming and the beach security guy (who’s relieving himself in full public view in the middle of the beach at the moment) is shrilly blowing his whistle and motioning to the swimmers to come out in the course of his routine rounds. Now I didn’t want to stop at all, but wanted to go deeper and deeper into the sea and stay longer and longer in the water and watch my survival instincts at work. What I really wanted was a flat lining moment; the thin grey space just before the afterlife – the few moments after your spirit has left your body, but you can still see yourself (your body) and your surroundings. But that would be tantamount to suicide, and that wasn’t on my mind on this trip. So, finally I left the water and we went back to the hotel, where the sea in my ears, nose, lungs, and stomach, and the wine in my brain, disoriented me so much that I was hardly aware of what I was conversing with my fellow hotel roommate. In the bathroom, filling water for a hot bath, I was staring wildly all around me, trying to clean sand off my clothes (which I’d foolishly kept on) and sandals without making a mess, and taking a bath without taking too much time. My head was beginning to feel like lead and a dull ache was throbbing in my cranium. My friend banged on the door, asking how much longer I was gonna take. At that moment, I felt so wild that if I’d a gun, I’m sure I’d have shot him. Somehow, I clumsily cleaned my clothes and sandals and took a bath, and then we all left for the submarine.

All this while, my system was functioning below capacity, and I was an android with glassy eyes and a wooden expression speaking in monosyllables. It was only after I had some pav bhaji and a vanilla shake that my senses returned to normal, and I started behaving more like a human again. Finally, when we returned to the hotel room, I realized that the battering of the sea had taken a toll on my muscles, and while my head was clear, my whole body ached. The last beautiful vision I had was of space, the milky way, planets, stars…all seen on the fluorescent ceiling wallpaper that glowed in the dark. Then I was plummeting into space…


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