If simply listening to and observing the gentle ripples of a water body can be peace-inducing, what effect could plunging into a lake have on a first-time outdoor swimmer? sukhadatatke finds out. CelebrateYou UnexpectedBeginnings NewIssue
Five years after learning how to swim, Sukhada Tatke finally tests the waters outdoors and contemplates the existential uncertainties of nature while floating in the rippling Schlachtensee in Berlin
I wobbled as I placed one foot after the other upon pebbles, weeds and variegated aquatic life. My body shrank while I moved further in the cold water. The sun smiled from the clear sky onto a huddle of surrounding trees. I took a deep breath, held it in and dunked my head in the water, prodded my feet up, stretched my arms and nudged my limbs to do their job.
Thrusting my chest forward to return to an upright position, I careened dizzily. In what I thought was a sharp, winning move, I had another epiphany: a few seconds can yank away the ground from beneath your feet. I panicked and my eyes stung, but I kept them peeled to the front, head out like a dog. Flailing my arms and legs, the very antithesis of poise and grace, I finally emerged standing, my hair a fervid tangle over the face.
Ever since I learnt to swim five years ago, it had been a dream to go wild swimming. The sea had never inspired such an ambition. Its unknowable vastness, its magnificence when the rough water roars at the shore have always struck terror in me. Too much beauty is a terrifying thing. Stare at the sea long enough, and it’s sure to lob at you the carefully hidden wreckage of your mind.
In Mumbai, swimming was an expensive affair, afforded only to those who had memberships at private clubs and gymkhanas. I longed to learn but deferred it to when I’d be an adult. Instead, I devoted my school and college years to athletics, table tennis and badminton.
Some weeks in, though, the practice paid off. Ditching the breaststroke altogether, I embraced freestyle. I was still quite a straggler. Precocious little kids slithered past me like porpoises, but I didn’t mind. I was prepared for the ultimate test, the coach announced one day as he ushered me to the edge of the deepest end of the pool.
But Nature, spent and exhausted, takes lovers back into herself, as if there were not enough strength to create them a second time.
If being in nature leads to the unfathomable joy of belonging to something larger than your imagined world, it also fills you with utter dread. When we look at nature, we contemplate geologic times, we intuit such enormous things that our imagination feels inadequate and our egos get eroded. To breathe among all that came before you and is destined to outlive you is a special thing. Dreadful as it is, our fleeting existence is the natural order.
But we, who do need such great mysteries, we for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit’s growth—: could we exist without them?
“Go ahead,” I told my friend, when she asked me to join her back in the water. I watched her bobbing head grow distant as she swam into the horizon. Around me, there were hundreds of others for whom swimming like this in the wild was just another summertime ritual. I marvelled at their buoyancy.
I got up, walked in the mud, haltingly made it past pebbles and shrubs and weeds, took a deep breath, held it in, closed my eyes and dunked my head in the water. This time, I trusted it.Read more: Verve Magazine
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