Friday, March 21, 2008

The day I almost drowned

What I did last weekend is something everyone must try at least once in their lifetime. For those with weak hearts and even weaker stomachs, I promise you, there must be less dangerous alternatives. But it's a thing to be done- to set a part of yourself free, to take a risk, to appreciate the force of nature, to brag about having done it or simply put... just for the sake of the experience!

Yes, I went white water rafting last weekend. It might sound banal at first- I mean, so many people we know or who others know have done it before. They all came back saying they loved it. It looked fun, adventurous. Wasn't too far from Delhi- so what the heck, was worth giving a shot!

Lucky to get a double off on a weekend, like normal people do, my friends and I were bent on making the most of it. The Ganga at Rishikesh was to host us on our mission. After checking into our lovely hotel at Muni ki Reti, unsuspecting visitors like us headed straight for Shivpuri, the base camp from where our rafting trip was to start. We were told we would be joining a rafting trip that had already set off from Marine Drive- a stretch of the river some kilometres away. So we played in the sand, next to a largely serene-looking aquamarine Ganga... waiting for our ride to come. And that's where we were wrong- it was not meant to be a ride at all. It required superb skills and courage to match.

As soon as our rafts got there, life jackets and helmets were strapped onto us. We were given our paddles and quickly told basic directions on how to row. And off we were...into the unknown (quite literally!).

As it was just the start of our mission, enthusiasm was high, our shoulders were working faster and the raft was moving forward. And there we saw the first rapid approach! Water lashing fiercely, each wave struggling to make space for itself and in the process, setting off a thick battle of foam. "Paddle harder," yelled our instructor and we put in all the strength we could. The raft tossed and turned, like a roller coaster ride on water and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I, for one, was having a gala time, relishing the adrenaline rush...wanting more.

Then the second, then the third. "This is fun!" I was passing high fives in air to Aparna and Avantika (my partners in crime) and we were on a roll.

Then came the fourth rapid- Club House. We saw the raft in front of us, being thrown around like a piece of paper. And I looked straight at the water. I could see a huge, really huge wave building up right in front of me. In the next few milliseconds, before I could react, I had been sucked right in! There was water all around me and suddenly, the sky disappeared!

I realised I had fallen into the water. There was no time to be scared. The life jacket was firmly in place and as soon as I had fallen in, the life jacket started pushing me up. But I then realised I hadn't reached the surface. Everything around me was still blue-green. I raised my hands and felt something above me. I was stuck under the raft!!

I then remembered what Avantika had told us that very morning. She had spoken of a little boy who died because as a raft turned upside down in the Andamans, the poor boy's life jacket kept pushing him up and the upturned raft kept pushing him down. He got stuck in the water and drowned... just below the suface. (It's amazing how I could think so clearly in that situation.) I raised my hands again, the raft was still there. I must have panicked for a second because as I opened my mouth to express shock, the water went right in- through my mouth, then my nose. Thankfully, that little swimming I had learnt and conveniently forgotten came back to me.... quite surprisingly. I shut my mouth and tried hard to remember what my swimming coach had said. "When in a tough spot in the water, just calmly exhale." Tried that, didn't work. Because I hadn't had the time or realisation to inhale while falling off. My mind was thinking again, the waters around me had calmed down slightly. I didn't care, I was choking.

And all this had taken just about 10 seconds. No breakthrough yet. Then my mind did the scariest thing... only that it seems scary in retrospect. At that moment and in that condition, the thought hit me quite casually, calmly. I remember thinking, "Oh! So is this the way I am going to die?' A second of acceptance. And then... "Okay, so I just have to wait for a few seconds to pass out, for everything to go black."

Meanwhile, I must have been moving. Because at that very second, my hand touched a rope and I heaved myself up from under the raft! It was a big loud breath, that of a person come back to life. Before I knew it, I was pulled out amidst cries of "Don't worry, you are okay!"; and dropped in the raft. For the next few seconds, every breath I took, I uttered a tired 'Mamma'. I even remember thinking how a child thinks first of its mother. What a strong bond that must be!

My life jacket was unfastened, and as the spinning in my head slowed down, I saw concerned faces looking down at me. I explained very clearly to them, "I was stuck under the raft, I couldn't breathe."

I then managed to raise my head and I saw that even the raft ahead of us had stopped. Terrified faces were staring at me. A firang professional kayaker had stopped too. He was asking me if I was okay. As I caught my breath, I must have smiled, as all tense faces around me relaxed. Some of them flashed thumbs up signs at me. Aparna was talking, asking me, telling me... I am not sure all of it registered in my head. But I realised those 12 seconds were long enough to have left everyone worried. And the truth is- I was completely shaken up!

The trip was far from over. And my fellow rafters couldn't believe it when they saw me being pulled back into the raft a second time, from the rapid that followed Club House. I had gone berserk when I fell into the rapid again, expecting the worst and holding on to the instructor who had jumped in to ensure everyone was safe after more than half the raft had emptied out. Here, I felt the real force of nature, of what I was talking about in the first paragraph. The water throws you around you like you don't matter; waves, a few feet high, rush to drown you and all you can do is wait for the rapid to get over so that you can be helped back into your place in the raft. I decided not to paddle in the rapids for the rest of the trip, fearing I would make a hat trick.

Of course, I realised the irony of the situation much later, as locals we met after rafting asked us how many of us fell in the water. So that was the point of it all! Falling in the rapid, taking fear head on, respecting the skills and strength of character of those who do it for a living...

For the 2-3 days that followed, I couldn't get that near-drowning experience out of my mind. Now, I am slowly learning to live with it. A friend said it would bring a radical change in the way I look at life, especially after knocking at the doors of death and then running away like a naughty child when the doors were opened. Well, that hasn't happened yet. But yes, it has opened up new avenues of thinking for me- like how I'll try snorkeling next or assisted sky-diving. Of course, I have vowed to continue going on more weekend trips. And now I also know the meaning of 'death by drowning'. Or shamelessly feeling that I understand 'water films' better than most others ...like when I was watching 'A Perfect Storm' last night.

Will I do it again? Hmm... tough one to answer. Maybe a year from now, I'll have accumulated enough courage again. Or maybe I'll let it remain a once-in-a-lifetime experience...


Blogger Ashish Derhgawen said...

Wow...that's a really amazing story. Guess what, I just returned home from Rishikesh today. Our hotel was also at Muni Ki Reti..and I went to Shivpuri for rafting on Saturday (March 22nd) - I had the time of my life!!! I was sitting at the front of the boat..and I was also almost knocked off the raft when a wave hit me...but it was fun. :)

Well, I'm glad you managed to survive!

9:54 AM  
Anonymous sonal said...

i could feel it jemu.....for a while...i thought....i am with u in that raft.....!
but one thing is for sure..... i now wanna do it desperately......!!!

10:00 AM  
Blogger Jemima said...

Isn't it one of the best things u have done, ashish? I am glad you had fun.

And So- you must try it!

11:27 AM  
Blogger yogsma said...

I haven't tried it..but looking at your experience, it is going to be really thrilling..gosh!!!!
Loved the sentence, you mentioned, "especially after knocking at the doors of death , and the running away like a naughty child when the doors are opened".
I just uploaded a video on my blog, what will you say in that case as the child can't run away?...
Different faces of Life.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Ashish Derhgawen said...

You bet. :)

While writing my first comment, I didn't realize that you got sucked in twice! That's just weird (not to mention funny!) Just kidding. :) You're lucky.

Well, I think you should try it again...(I would!) :)

12:39 PM  
Blogger SammyB said...

Wow Jemi, that must have been scary! Reminds me of my early days in Israel, when we went to a private beach with no life-guards. In an attempt to impress a few girls we entered deep waters, and within no time my feet could feel no sand, and I was drowning. I was gasping for air, and the girls thought I was fooling, so they laughed. Until finally two burly guys (4 times my size) realised what was happening, and pulled me out... Boy that was the closed I got to drowning.

But the next weekend I went back to the beach :)...

5:25 PM  
Blogger Jemima said...

Yogesh- Personally, it's my fave line too! And what makes me happier is that it's original! Still gotta see the video- my office system doesn't have a sound card.

ashish- yes, it's mighty weird!

shama- the guys in our raft were cute but not cute enough for me to risk my life a second time! ;-)

8:26 AM  
Blogger Chinmay said...

Hey that is so lively and deadly at once! Not just playing with words but I mean it. Is ur moon-sign Sinha(Leo) or Kanya(virgo)? Anyway, that is really breath-taking experience....it is good to be with multiple identity disorder than not to be at all! If ur sign is one of the abv two dont go for any more adventures dear!

10:31 AM  
Blogger SammyB said...

Jemi...Second time they may be cuter ;)...Just kidding, do what your heart says dear.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Me! said...

Hey Jemima,

White water rafting is and experience to experience. Though I haven't been lucky enough, my elder bro was. Anyways, Thank god! you are safe. Next time try bungee jumping.


4:13 AM  
Anonymous Kirti Pandey said...

Hey Jem, that was a scary read. Aaila, don't do it again.

On the other hand, when are you doing it next?
But you are your mother's nightmare.

I would love to do something like this myself but someone will have to hold a gun to my ears to make me get onto that raft.


4:07 AM  
Blogger Kirti Pandey said...

Hey Jem, that was a scary read. Aaila, don't do it again.

On the other hand, when are you doing it next?
But you are your mother's nightmare.

I would love to do something like this myself but someone will have to hold a gun to my ears to make me get onto that raft.


4:08 AM  
Blogger Sujata said...

I am sorry you nearly drowned. I had taken almost the same river rafting trip few years back and had a pretty good time. I have to say you are a very good story teller. I also like your spirit- ready for more adventures.

3:46 PM  

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