CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FINAL KIND
My daughter had written a story on death, at an age when one is not supposed to have such thoughts, and it disturbed me. It was brought about by a close brush with death that we both had, but our memories differed.
We had been vacationing in Goa, and enjoying the usual water sports, beach hopping, sampling the exquisite local seafood cuisine and wine. All this, while chilling us out, was ravaging the purse considerably.
That day, there seemed to be a storm shaping up, and the sea was quite rough. There were very few boats out, and they were hurrying back. Warning was being issued on the loudspeakers for bathers not to venture out to sea. My wife was in a shack on the beach, reading, while I was in the surf with my kids.
That was when a boatman approached us, offering to take us parasailing for a ridiculously low rate, as he couldn’t get customers. We had been parasailing earlier at many times the cost and agreed instantly.
Years ago, when hang gliding in Himachal, a similar offer from a guide on a stormy day had been turned down by my wife, and a couple who were in the same hotel as us had succumbed to the temptation, leading to the young man’s plunging to his death. This time she wasn’t around to prevent such idiotic rashness, and I did not remember the incident till much later, and we heedlessly boarded the speedboat.
The waves were very high, and the boat was being tossed around more than any amusement park thrill ride, or grade four white water rafting. I was joking with my kids that this was extra thrills for free, as we screamed in excitement when getting buffeted and drenched by the breakers.
When the waves started going over our heads, I held on to my little girl, who was small and frail, and I thought she may get swept away. My elder daughter, tall, strapping and athletic, and an excellent swimmer, I wasn’t worried about.
All of a sudden, a colossal wave flipped over our speedboat like a toy, and the boatmen screamed” jump!”, and dived overboard. I held on to my little one and followed them.
We were lost in a dark green world being tossed around by enormous forces, and fighting for breath. But through it all, I kept my grip on my baby with all my strength. After what seemed like an eternity, we broke surface, among swirling waves, with no one else in sight. In desperation, I tried to dive underwater to search for my daughter, without letting go of the child. But our lifejackets kept keeping us up, when an extra strong wave tossed us around and broke my grip. Now I was back in the dark currents, helpless, and alone.
Life did not flash before my eyes, nor did any foreboding of death enter my mind, but my only thought was: how could I tell my wife that I have lost her babies?
Through the gloom I could see the boat, upside down, sinking to the bottom and trailing the parachute ropes. Then I thought I saw a hand reaching out for help. But the currents wouldn’t let me reach her.
When I came up for air, I could see no one, and had no idea which way the shore would be. Suddenly, a head popped out, and it was my daughter, barely conscious, a few feet away. I held on to her for dear life, looking around for signs of my baby. When we crested a high swell, I could see the distant shore, and a number of lifeguard’s boats coming towards us. I also saw the lead boat pick up a tiny figure in a red lifejacket from the sea. The baby was safe. Being light, the waves had pushed her a hundred yards towards the shore, as the lifejacket kept her on the surface. She was the first to be rescued. Now all we had to do was stay afloat and hold on to each other, and in five minutes we were being pulled aboard.
In the medical tent on shore we reunited with the younger kid, who wanted to know why I was trying to drown her till she got away and was saved by the boat uncle. The older one, once revived, wanted to kill our boatman, who was pleading with us not to lodge a complaint, as he would lose his licence and livelihood.
I learnt that the boat had flipped on the side that my daughter was sitting in, and she was trapped below it. However, she kept her nerve and managed to fight her way out and untangle herself from the ropes, and fight the strong back current at the depths to push herself up, nearly blacking out from holding her breath for so long. She was bruised and had rope burns, but her feisty spirit was back.
I later learnt that she felt forsaken that I had exercised a Sophie’s choice, and tried to save my younger, and according to her, my favourite child.
In the meanwhile, my wife, oblivious to all this, was lost in some fictional drama, and our reappearance with a crowd of onlookers in tow, looking, well, like survivors of a shipwreck, shocked her out of the make believe word. And our story reinforced her healthy distrust of the liquid element, which had kept her onshore in the first place.
In order that fear doesn’t paralyse us, we went parasailing again next day, at fine weather, and with a safer boatman.
My daughter’s reaction and recollection of the same event is provided in the link below.
Much later, when watching the Amir Khan Starrer thriller Talash, the scene where he is diving underwater to find his lost child, resurrected my old nightmares.
But contrary to all clichés, our close brush with the reaper did not change us in any way, and we continued to live out our mundane lives like we are immortal.