The lessons I learnt.

I was at the pool yesterday for my morning swim. I have added this to my routine recently. Meghana, a national swimming champ, can be proud of her uncle! I know how to swim now!

Suddenly, I heard a splash and saw two Thai preteen girls jump into the water and were soon swimming with an abandon only kids can have. After their burst of activity they noticed me. They seemed surprised that I was at the middle level of the pool and not at the deep end like them. One of them asked me in Thai 'Pen Mai' (can you swim?) pointing to the deep end. I knew they were amused by a grown man sticking to shoulder depth water. This reaction would have been upsetting for me earlier, but not anymore.

This is my story of how I conquered, not my fear of water, but the dread of people laughing at me for being scared.

I have been looking at the swimming pool in Rishi court for the last twenty years. I think I swam only once with Rohini when she was here in Bangkok. She can swim well and I think felt silly splashing in my dog style (nayee eeju), the only style I knew, across the pool while she kept going steadily to and fro along the length of the pool.

Actually, I started swimming lessons along with my friends almost 60 years ago. I had to do it on the sly as I knew I would not be permitted if I asked my mother. On my first day the teacher tied a rope around my waist and pushed me into the water asking me to swim. I had already seen the other kids splashing about like crazy and I tried to imitate as he held me up with the rope. After a while I saw a rope floating near me and was shocked to realize the teacher had let go of my rope. I thrashed about frantically and managed to reach the sidewall of the pool. The teacher was irritated with me that I panicked. He was there watching in case I was in trouble.

Anyway that was my first and the last lesson as my mother found out and I did not go again. I suppose I was too scared to face her as a dead body. There was also the memory of my tumbling into water when I was about six while bending over a creek and was pulled up by my father. He used to refer to the jacket I had worn as my lifesaver. He might have been just joking but I still remember the incidence.

I tried again when I was around seventeen and stopped due to a bad cold. Started and stopped again in Roorkee when I was twenty. My palm was swollen for a week due to an insect bite as I tried to clear the water of fallen leaves and did not notice the insect. I suppose I also missed a few lessons in courtship as I was also witness to the ways a guy would teach, his very scared girl friend, how to swim. Anyway, as I was the only other person there at that time, my absence surely would have helped them to concentrate better.

I have sad memories of trying to swim in Pune as one of our friends drowned and that too on the day I was not with them. The cause was not the water; it was his heart that gave up while he was swimming. I did try again much later and having caught a cold again, decided finally that swimming was not for me.

It changed for me last October as I started to learn swimming in a proper manner thanks to Seema. She already knew how to swim but was getting lessons from a teacher to improve her style. At my request she arranged with the teacher for my lessons.

I know I took a much longer time to learn, but I am now able to swim the breast stroke. I still have some funny problems as I beach like a whale as soon as I reach knee deep water. This means I have yet to swim the full length of the pool. Even my teacher is mystified about my mental blocks.

The Thai teacher realizing that I was scared of water, taught me some routines to do before I started my swim. Then he asked me if I knew how to do like a donkey! He meant swimming like one; we do have small Thai-English communication challenges here. When I said I did not know, he showed me how. It is easy, I just have to float and move my legs and hands like the donkeys do while they swim.

Earlier when I spoke to Nandini about my swimming lessons, she suggested I practice, when alone, at a depth I felt comfortable and enjoy myself. This made sense and I still continue to do so. I know I am able to swim in the deep but I am not in a hurry to get to deep waters yet. I am not sure when the panic button will get pressed and I find it makes no sense to brave it alone, even if the ‘donkey’ is there to rescue me.

I have now realized my reluctance to fully learn swimming was a way of keeping me from going to the deeper side of the pool. I know now it was not my technique but my phobia which kept me from being confident about my abilities to swim. I have finally realized that I can enjoy my swim only when I accept my phobia and my limitations due to this. I am also able to sympathise with the phobias people have and their inability to overcome it. For instance, the fear of lizards Tara has, would not irritate me now as it did earlier.

It has been a very long journey but the lesson I learnt is that it is not always possible or necessary to meet your phobias head on and be cured of it. It is also ok to work around it and make the best out of the situation.

(A few commented in the blog that they are now motivated to learn swimming. A few weblinks may be useful for them.)


Anonymous said…
I love your sympathetic approach to phobias - note the plural! I think if each one examined their own phobias, it would be rather amazing how many of them stem from childhood experiences - at home, school, whatever. And these are just the ones that we can trace back. But the ones that we aways wonder about - Can't imagine why I am so terrified of ---- - those must stem from really early childhood interaction. Which I think brings me to my usual practice of emphasizing the immense impact that parenting has in all kinds of development, including that of phobias! And I think it is high time that I started thinking of entering the pool as well!
Anonymous said…
A very nice read, particularly for its honesty and its subtle humour. Your blog could serve as the perfect antidote to the new age psycho-gurus who suggest that 'anything is possible'. As inspiring as that sounds, it can lead to even more disappointment. Instead, your approach is grounded in reality - that anything is possible, within the realm of the probable. As economists, we call this 'constrained optimisation'! We make the best of what we have, and then build upon our successes. Your approach is not only realistic, but also inspiring for your tenacity at trying to learn swimming over six decades! As Meghana's mother might put it, 'Go, Nidhi, go!'

P.S. I have a different problem - I LOVE water but can't swim and my champion wife is the worst coach in the world. Therefore, I optimised my constraints and can now float and snorkel for hours on end. Life has its small pleasures!
Kaveri said…
Dear Uncle,
Now I know that I am not alone, but I don't know when I am your age will I still have the guts to go and learn swimming. I love water and would love to spend more time in the pool or a beach. In fact, I had just one day of glory in the same Rishi Court pool where I could float the whole breadth and I was so thrilled but I made the mistake of calling my mother and telling her about it. As I had similar incidents of drowning as a child and a teenager, she asked me to learn first and then get into the pool :-) Now I am the happiest one in a pool with a noodle which doesn't leave my side and it doesn't embarrass me anymore. I wish you all the success, I'll try to be brave and hopefully swim one day.
srinidhi said…
It was nice to receive Arunabha's comments. He always adds value to my blog and makes it look better! I have never done snorkeling, should try it sometime! Thanks Arunabha for your comments!...Uncle
Viji Hashim said…
good for u nidhi that u finally have learnt to swim. A good lesson for all of us who have a number of phobias. viji
Ashok Sajjanhar said…
Very well written Nidhi. An honest and balanced self-analysis.

You compel the readers to look within themselves and consciously evaluate their own experiences, thought processes, environment and circumstances. Thereby taking responsibility for their actions themselves rather than attributing their responses and reactions to external factors like other individuals and situations.

Keep up the good work.

I am looking forward to reading rest of the articles over the week-end!!

Please convey a very Happy International Women's Day to Tara on 8th March!!

Warm Regards,

Easwar Narayan said…
Dear Nidhi,
I can actually put myself in your place and just change a few anecdotes.Very interesting reading indeed.
I think I will get into the pool one of these days for sure.Many a times its the phobia and also the sheer thought that what will XYZ think, this guy 6'3" and in the shallow side of the pool, swimming ( more splashing water) breadths instead of lengths.
Thanks Nidhi, I will certainly make the attempt soon.
Good day,
Easwar ( Luckily not the creator EASWARA)
Ramaswamy Prasad said…
Thanks for blogs. We try to read these but often browse quickly saying that we revisit blogs. It does not quite happen as we have an overload of Emails to contend with.
Anyway I am glad you have taken to swimming seriously. On the other hand I am devoting more time for Yoga and hence did not swim for months. I am also a late learner with similar background as yours to be able to survive in water.
Meghana said…
Dear Nidhi Uncle

Just read your post about your experiences in the pool. It made very interesting reading and so applicable in everything that we do both at work and home i.e. knowing and acknowledging the problem is a big step towards solving it.

Keep writing! I dont always respond like Arunabha does but know that I am reading and enjoying your words!

Much love
Rohini said…
Congrats! You did it! I just woke up early so I could register Leela for swimming lessons and your blog is about swimming!

I remember swimming with you and your fear of putting your head underwater...Its great that you've conquered that fear.

Has amma ventured to the pool too?
Aparna said…
Dear Uncle,

Congratulations! I know so many people with the same phobia as yours, but I can perhaps count on one hand the people who have had the courage to overcome it. Like Papa does, I think it's best to start slow and just enjoy the sensation of being in water.

By the way, I hope this means that the scuba diving trip that you, me and Aditi have been discussing for years is close to coming true.

Anonymous said…
well....i am your class mate of in the now famous swim class(1 class old!) and if you hadnt asked me i would'nt have gotten around to doing it! no phobia for me....just sheer laziness(honesty!). so thanks for was such fun!
your blog, was simple and honest. i was touched. its important to be OK wherever we are....and your writing and sharing, also liberates you...besides the actual swimming.
i admire you for taking it up and sticking with it. i hope it rubs off on me too.
Anonymous said…
This is surely a piece of writing I would like my students in school to read. These are fears lots of kids feel but just look the other way instead of acknowledging and fighting them. So if you dont mind, Nidhi, I'm printing it out and putting it up on my class board so the 15/16 year olds can read it. This is so much more meaningful than the essays they have in their english textbook that they have to study!!
sau100 said…
hello uncle..was a nice xperience to read. u mentiond u tried swimming in roorkee once.Actually m in roorkee but've no idea where to learn swimming..can u help..!!??
srinidhi said…
Dear sau100
Sorry to have missed your question all this while. It has been ages, but I think it was either at the CBRI or at the Roorkee Eng college.

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