AND I SCUBA DIVED IN KERALA, KOVALAM! By: Arya Jose

“There’s a very famous saying by Arthur C Clarke, “How inappropriate to call this planet earth when it is quite clearly ocean”. What we all need to understand is that the oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of Earth’s water. To date, we have explored less than 5 percent of the ocean. There is immense to be learned and explored every single day”, said Jackson Peter, managing partner of Kerala’s first PADI certified scuba dive resort, Bond Safari. And I knew I was at the right place!

I have never been an adventure junkie. The rush in my adrenaline is not often triggered by the physical escapades rather an expedition into solitude by just inhaling the power of nature. However, my excitement at the opportunity to scuba dive convinced me the presence of an adventure enthusiast in me. So, if you would ask me how excited I was? I’d stretch my arms to its fullest and say “This much!”.
My excitement directly boosted my attentiveness. I impatiently consumed every piece of information during the briefing session by one of the dive instructors, Nikhil. When he iterated that breathing is the mantra, we, my family and cousins, repeated after him. Inhale..exhale..inhale..exhale. when he taught us the four important hand signals, ‘ok’, ‘problem’, ‘up’ and ‘down’, from my 49-year-old father to my 16-year-old brother signalled at each other. We together practiced ‘equalising’ by pinching our nose and blowing through our ears. we engraved even the minutest of details on the paper of our minds, from the parts of the buoyancy bag to the adjusting of the breathing apparatus. What had been an informative and advisory session turned into a total fun one! Then we changed into our dive suits and left for the famed Kovalam beach, geared up and ready to dive! My restlessness inhibited me from delighting at the sight of the beach which now that I think of it was undeniably splendid! Soon it was my time to dive.
I was introduced to my dive instructor, Subin, who equipped me to the brow in my “dive armour” as I would like to call it, preparing me for the encounter with the sea. Once we had entered the premises of the sea, once I could sense the lash of the undercurrent on my lower half, my body began to tense. My countenance broke to sheer nervousness. Subin once again instructed me on the various hand gestures and the importance of equalising. We practiced it several times above water. Maybe he sensed the fear on my face. He told me not to worry. I wanted to tell him that it was the sea that worried me. “Trust me, your fears will seem insignificant amidst the grandeur of its beauty”, he said. I lay my trust in those experienced hands and we plunged in to the unknown depths of the sea!
In just a moment I was engulfed by the eternity of the sea silencing the noise of the other world. Strange how I referred to my indigenous as the other world. The many marvels of the sea! All I could perceive were the entrancing rhythm of my breath, the murmur of the sea in my ears and the banging of my thoughts on the walls of my mind wanting to be freed into the vastness of the sea! Yes, the sea had turned me into a poet!

I was pulled into reality by my dive instructor who was asking me if I was ok. No, he did not remove his breathing apparatus and ‘ask’ me if I was doing fine. Communication underwater is done through sign language in case you are wondering. I signalled I was ok. Reminding me to equalise we descended further.
However, this time, before my thoughts could take control of me, my mind was reigned by my sight. The treasure trove of corals opened itself before my eyes. For a moment, I could imagine the sea whispering “Behold my wondrous world!”. I let my eyes take in what seemed like an expanse of rocks marbled with cockles and flower like sea urchins. The visual treat had just begun! A school of Angelfish swam past me followed by a jelly fish. Yes, a jellyfish! It looked squishy and cuddly that I wanted to touch it. But before I could do anything stupid, Subin took me away from it. He pointed at something to my right and I smiled through my breathing apparatus because I knew what it was. A pair of puffer fishes in all their glory! I was immediately transported to the time I wavered through my encyclopaedia. The males are known to make `nests’ in the sand. More impressive even is that they never reuse a nest but make a new one each time. If the female is impressed, she will ‘lay’ her eggs in the nest and the male fertilizes them. My eyes next caught on the tiny yellow guy contrasted against the blue of the sea. I later understood that it was a boxer fish. What a wonderful world, I thought! It was one thing to see these creatures up close, but it was another thing to witness their existence within their own ecosystem!

As my dive instructor pointed out to the various organisms of the sea, as he mimicked with his hands the wavy patterns on the sea floor, as he dug out shellfish from the sea bed, as he pointed out to the patterns created by the sun on the sea floor, I gaped like a child at every new discovery. The beautiful quote by Jacques Cousteau “The sea once it casts its spell holds you in its net of wonder forever” made perfect sense to me now. I was undoubtedly under its spell!

The sea was patient in teaching me. It unfurled its mysteries one by one. The next mystery I stumbled upon was how its liberty resounded everywhere. Even though I was weighed down by weights and of course the pull of gravity I experienced unbridled freedom. It wouldn’t be far fetching to say that I felt like I was floating through space. Correction. Flying through space.
With my thoughts taking me places I hadn’t noticed the passage of time. As Subin gestured that we were going up, I did not feel sad. In fact, I felt more than satisfied for I emerged as a new person, enlightened! Its rightly said that when the heart is full words are few for when Subin asked me how it was, I couldn’t find words to contain my joy. I simply beamed at him.

Making a mental note to myself to thank everyone at Bond Safari Kovalam for this wonderful experience, for letting me into their world and for making this non-swimmer dive the depths, I walked out of the sea with an air of accomplishment. I had truly explored the unexplored! I looked over at my family and cousins who were eagerly sharing their experience and I was elated at the thought of that common memory that will bring us even closer. I felt impatient for the time when we will say “remember that time when we went scuba diving”, for every time the memory will be aroused, I’ll be taken to the sea, once more. Letting my thoughts hover, I gazed at the beauty for a long time, humming a Nina Simone track ‘it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m feeling good!’