The Mask

While I write this piece, I am conscious that I am writing one after a hiatus of one full year. That is, by any blogging standards, a pretty long time. Well, not so much, particularly when the year gone by was marred by one of the biggest challenges imposed on three or more generations of humans living on this planet earth. Unfortunately, as I write again, while certain parts of the world have started to recover from the havoc, others, including India, are facing much bigger crisis due to the COVID-19 virus. I think, in the given times, the topic chosen by me makes more sense than anytime else.

Last year, same time, as India and many other countries imposed strict lockdown and percolated the sensitivity amongst its citizens to wear ‘The Mask’, certain other countries, including the US, particularly at the leadership level, ignored the fact, that this simple piece of clothing could perhaps be the most empowering thing to save many lives. It was painful to see many leading economies, having best of the technologies, resources and means, losing people to this virus in large numbers. At the same time, it became a matter of pride of certain not so advanced countries having huge population base, to save many souls just by imposing strict protocols. 

A year down the line, the situation on the ground is quite different. With new and more sensitive leadership in place, these leading economies have learnt their lessons and have quickly adopted the ‘The Mask’, apart from rapidly vaccination a large part of their respective population. On the contrary, people in India, in exceptionally large numbers, shunned this very piece of clothing, which had empowered them to avoid a catastrophe for almost a year. There are stories that a particular section of people had started to mock their family and friends, who were still wearing ‘The Mask’. The sad part is that this has led to a very grim situation with many lives lost. Hopefully, people who have been affected, yet saved, have learnt some lessons along the way.

While many of us, including leading doctors and scientists, may not be much knowledgeable about how this virus behaves, as it is completely new for us, one fact which has already been well-established is that its spread can be well controlled by the simple act of wearing ‘The Mask’. Let us take a pledge to have this much of sensitivity that we wear it for our own good, and for the well being of our family members, friends, neighbours, fellow citizens, and people of the world at large. It is also evident that this virus is not going away soon. So, let us break its cycle by wearing ‘The Mask’ and avoid more waves of tragedy possible in the future, by not doing so.

Let us empower ourselves with wearing ‘The Mask’, as Jim Carrey did in the famous 1994 movie, which changed the course of his life!

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Flirting with the Swimming Pool !

In a typical Indian scenario, a parent, especially a father, would be wary of certain events when his son his reaching age where he can flirt. In my case it was different. My son taught me flirting. I know that reading this; you all are raising your eye brows. Calm down. He taught me how to flirt with the swimming pool!

It all began when we shifted from Nerul to Kharghar (both in Navi Mumbai. We had landed in a brand new society which had just been occupied by a few families. Out of all the things which caught my attention the most was the swimming pool; clean, full of water, with brand new blue tiles, reflecting the azure sky. It was almost mesmerizing. Being a water zodiac, I was naturally attracted towards it.

Having born & brought-up in Delhi, somehow I had never got a chance to have the luxury of a decent swimming pool. Also, the weather of Delhi did not allow continuous swimming throughout the year. So when we shifted to Mumbai, swimming was one thing on top of my mind. However it did not materialize immediately. The society in Nerul did not have a swimming pool and nothing decent was available nearby too. So landing-up in Kharghar in a society with its own swimming pool was a boon.

I think by this time you would have formed an impression that I was a swimmer capable of some deft strokes. No, I was not. I was only a person with a great liking for swimming. But I had to still learn it. The only thing now I had between me and swimming was a decision, which did not come easily. But it finally came.

My son had made a couple of friends elder to him in age and they started spending their evenings at the pool. My son’s excitement caught me. I took the first step of buying a pair of swimming costumes, goggles and a cap. And then I entered it for the first time. I remembered my days of having learnt floating and started with it quite enthusiastically. Very soon I got bored of doing only floating, whereas my son was getting better and better at freestyle. He had also joined swimming club in his school and was practicing twice a week there also. And then one day he announced that he would like to join a YMCA sports complex in Belapur (close to Kharghar).

Having practiced well over the weekends, by this time I was able to swim from one corner of our society pool to another but I had not learnt the art of breathing while swimming, so I use to do my lap in one breath. Also the pool was not very deep so I could always manage to stop in between if I lost my breath. One evening I reached YMCA directly from my office where my son was swimming and my wife was enjoying the sight. I had gone there with some preparation and I decided to take a dip in that pool. I did not realize that the pool there was much longer than our society pool and much deeper too. In my natural style, I took a deep breath, held it and started swimming from the shallower portion towards the deeper side. It was dark by that time and although I was swimming under a strongly lit halogen lamp, it was not as comfortable as it is during day time. After reaching certain distance I realized that I couldn’t reach the other corner without taking a breath. Since I did not know how to take the breath, while continuing swimming, I got panicky. Moments later I was almost drowning. Fortunately I realized that somebody was shouting at me asking me to turn left and reach the nearest corner. I mustered whatever courage & strength I could and practically jumped towards it. By the time I could regain control I found myself desperately clutching my hands to the corner of the pool. I was still gasping with the temporary shock. It took me some time to overcome it.

Interesting a cute little girl was watching the whole incident. She approached me with a smile and said “Uncle, I think you do not know how to breathe while swimming and that’s why all this happened”. She told it so casually that I couldn’t help admitting it. And then she acted almost like a school teacher, exhibiting and explaining how I should take a breath before taking a dip, exhale with my nose while inside the water and inhale with my mouth quickly by briefly turning my head up to bring it outside the water. I couldn’t thank the little angel more for explaining it so nicely without embarrassing me.

Next time we were together in our society pool, I asked my son whether he knows the technique of breathing while swimming and very innocently he asked me that how else one can swim! I said I take a breath and complete the length without losing it and asked him if he could actually teach me to master this art of breathing while swimming. And then over the next few weekends, he patiently explained to me the correct technique and made me practice it. This was the beginning of my flirting!

As days passed by, I tried to master the technique. Season changed, it rained heavily for a few months, as it would do in Mumbai and I lost the touch since I couldn’t practice during rainy season. By the time I could start over again, the days were getting colder as winter was setting in, becoming another deterrent to my continuous practice. I was desperate for the days to get warmer again so that I could resume my practice. This time I had decided to be even more dedicated and practice during evenings, after reaching home from office.

I had practiced self determination in my studies, job, etc. and decided to utilize it for swimming too. So it became acceptable if I had to swim during evenings, in two dimly lit tube lights, most of the time alone, as my son was busy in his studies. I used to share my experience with him over the weekends and improve upon, based on his tips. Days passed by and I was getting better & better. In the meantime, my son had learnt different strokes, which encouraged me to master my freestyle. There were times when he & I swam in late afternoons in hot sun to avoid the rush of children who would fill the pool during their vacations.

Today, I am happy that I can complete multiple full rounds of the pool, deftly breathing in & out, while mastering my strokes. I do it regularly, practically every evening, and many times twice over the weekends. It has helped me remain fit, in shape, improve my mood when I am down, eradicate my stress and most important of all keep my spirits high. Today I cannot imagine a day without swimming. I can almost claim to be a late bloomer at the age of 44.

I’m happy to share that it all of it was possible only because my son taught me how to flirt with the swimming pool!