MY Father loved to swim and used to start his day (whether he had shooting or not) with a three or four mile long swim in the sea. I was just a kid then and used to sit on the shore and watch him swimming from a distance. He gave me some rudimentary lessons, 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. But, for Father, the monsoon was the best time to swim in the sea. He loved the huge breakers and the strong winds. “I like it when the sea is rough,” he used to say.
One day, as I sat on the shore, he came up to me and said, “Why don’t you come along and swim today? It will be fun. Are you afraid?” That sounded like a challenge, and, fool that I was, I accepted his offer. Seeing that I looked nervous, he reassured me, “We won’t venture too far out.”
I kept close to the shore and began to paddle around in waist-deep water. I had no intention of going any deeper. But, then, a huge breaker suddenly caught us unawares and dragged us out into the open sea. I thrashed around in panic, but to no avail. Within seconds we were in deep waters, a furlong away from the shore.
To this day I can remember the feeling of utter panic and terror that gripped me. The wind was howling like a banshee, 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 screamed for help. I was sure this was the end.
“Relax, son,” my father said as he swam up to me. “There is nothing we can do about the current. It is too strong.” “We will drown,” I screamed in panic. “Not if we keep our heads, son,” he smiled. “Just relax. Sea water is buoyant. If you panic and thrash around you will surely go under. So, float. The tide always turns. And, when it does, the sea will push us back to the shore on its own. So, relax. And, now, let us sing.”
I was flabbergasted as father 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 miles away.
A small crowd of people, looking like ants from this distance, had collected on the shore and were pointing at us and waving frantically. They knew 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 in a boat,” I shouted joyfully. “We are saved.”
My father was silent. The man in the kayak turned out to be an Englishman. I waved out to him, and he waved back as he rowed towards us. But, my father looked impassive. When the kayak was near enough, he shouted to the man: “We don’t need your help. Please go back.”
The Englishman was astonished. “Are you mad?” he shouted above the roar of the sea. “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, take hold of the kayak.”
“Leave us alone. We can look after ourselves,” my father said. The Englishman was furious. “You Indians are mad,” he yelled and began to row back towards the shore.
I looked at father 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.
Soon, I lost track of time. We must have floated helplessly in the sea for a couple of hours. Father did not stop singing. He kept close to me and did not let me drift too far away. “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,” he said.
I did not believe a word of what he was saying till something miraculous happened. The tide turned. “The tide will push us back now,” Father said. “Come on, let us swim.”
Our progress towards the shore after that was swift, and, soon, 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, my father 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 and remember: the tide always turns.”
The author is a well-known film actor
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