Of streamline, starboard and other aquatic arts

Left to my own devices, I probably would have indefinitely postponed this as one of the things I always wanted to do but never got around to doing. However, the wife, ever persistent, ensured that I signed up and there I was, ready for my first lesson, bleary eyed and in a foul mood at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning.

I had company in my misery, as my nephew, in similar disposition, gave me a wan smile as I picked him up. This was not going to be fun, we grimly thought.

The pool itself looked uninviting and menacing. We looked around at the dozen or so fellow poor souls, a majority whom I was sure were forced to enroll by identical circumstances as I was.

One look at the instructor gave our hearts further impetus to sink lower. He was built like a Greek god, with colossal shoulders and a miniscule waist. Mouthing unprintable mumbles, we stood under the shower which had been specially designed to dispense water at a temperature slightly lower than the already chill morning.

The class of Summer 2006 comprised of males from ranging from 15-50 years. A majority was on the wrong side of 40. We joined the mostly pot-bellied gentlemen in the pool and were pleasantly surprised to find the water not as cold as we had been led to believe by preliminary inspection.

The first few days essentially involved a lot of ungainly kicking of the water with our hands safely clasped on the side rails and our bodies stretched out. On the 3rd day or so, we were taught to float.

The initial week went off without much incident or excitement other than a lot of aches and pains for me as my body had been subjected to alien movements after eons.

The second week saw more familiarity developing between the apt pupils. A few categories distinctly emerged at this point. There was the ‘Know-It-All’ group which boasted as its members people who were chock full of advice and tips on swimming. Then, there was the ‘Leave me alone’ group, who just wanted to learn and get the hell out with minimum interaction with other students. Finally, the fun loving bunch who basically wanted to…you guessed it…just have fun. My nephew and I fell in between the second and third category. There was also one person who was in a separate category which I shall describe in excruciating detail in due course of my narrative.

Unfortunately for my nephew, one of the most active members of the ‘Know-It-All’ group took it upon himself to be a secondary coach for our 18 day extravaganza. We quickly named his ‘Streamline’ as he explained in a austere and scientific way as to how the body, the legs and the hands have to be in a streamlined position before the dive and how this would help the swimming. We were also the unwilling audience for other theories of aerodynamics that were missed, as both my nephew and I routinely disappeared under water to laugh insanely and surface only when we had control over our facial muscles.

After the first lecture, we watched with rapt attention as Streamline stood at the edge of the pool, eyeing the water with the easy confidence of Ian Thorpe. Once Streamline took off from land and entered the water, we gleefully realized that there was an abyss between his theoretical expositions and actual execution. He touched the water with all the grace of a dosa (pancake) hitting a tava (pan). The hands stretched outwards, the legs splayed and the head facing up all completed a 100% variation from the techniques imparted to us a few minutes earlier.

Then there was the extreme right-winger who, no matter, what he did, always headed right and consistently showed surprise at where he landed up. He was very sure he was going straight. Our infinitely patient instructor did all he could to divert him but right-winger was hell bent on going only one direction, i.e. starboard.

Now comes the part I delight in expounding. There was this one guy who had a perpetual issue with his nose. Irrespective of the number of times he went under water or swam, there was always a gravity defying semi-viscous substance dripping from his nose. He did try to get rid of it on many occasions but the substance invariably returned, precariously dangling, but never completing its journey downwards. I was fascinated by the elasticity of this but my nephew; as usual the prey of such situations could never quite get out of this guy’s reach. We named him G-Force, for the simple reason that ‘Gonney’ in Kannada means snot, which, to further clarify, is the output of nasal congestion. One cool thing that happened due to G-Force was that my nephew learnt to swim very fast and did quite a few laps in attempts to elude G-Force. If anything, G-Force should be thanked for my nephew’s remarkable turn of speed in water, without even surfacing to breathe.

In the 18 days we attended, we picked up rudimentary swimming skills. However, there was one technique that we could never master, as hard as we tried, starting from Day 2. Our instructor would dip both hands in water, bring them out clasped and aim a jet of water towards anyone he pleased. We were amazed by the range and accuracy. We practiced this surreptitiously for the entire duration of the class but failed miserably. This has now become a lofty personal goal for both my nephew and me. The latest on this: We can both manage about a few inches but never in the direction that we intend. Long way to go there but we shall overcome!

Despite our impressive showing in three weeks, our dreams for gold in Beijing 2008 are fast fading, especially as I wanted to participate in the individual medley. No matter…we shall wait for London 2012. In the meantime, there’s always the English Channel…
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