Close to noon, we sat in our chairs on a cemented floor, scribbling our signatures on a declaration that said we would be solely responsible for our death.
The stern looking man with hair that of face length, wearing an expression of I-don’t-give-a-damn approached us a minute later for taking back the forms. I read through each and every point as quickly as I could before handing over the disclaimer along with the illegitimate responsibility of our lives for the next half an hour.
“Scuba diving can even be done by children as young as 10 years.” With that, they did instil some confidence in me, but things quickly got complicated when they put a 3-kilogram weight harness around my waist as I stood neck deep in water.
The Andaman Islands offer one of the best underwater experience of the rich marine life in a natural aquarium of the sea, a larger part of which still remains unexplored. On recommendation, I chose to dive at Havelock Island, which offers around 30 diving points close to the Island.
Before going into the deep waters, the instructor made us wear body-clinging diving suits. Ours were wetsuits—thick, spongy, covering our thighs and sleeves—they felt warmer than damp. We donned footwear made of similar material; nothing fancy, just high boots that suited the environment we were about to enter.
If you are wondering when we wear those long and fancy diver fins, it is the instructors who make you wear them. By leaving you to float on your back with your feet above the water, they grab your legs and strap the fins over your feet. Watching myself get a new pair of webbed feet while floating aimlessly with an inflated gear, I felt no less than a duckling that has just hatched out of its egg.
The Instructions In Scuba Diving
While fixing the weight harness around my waist and the oxygen cylinder on my shoulders, the instructor Shaolin from Ocean Dive Centre briefed me about the gears, their purpose and the hand gestures used during underwater communication. He also explained that the pressure in the deep sea makes the ears pop like it does when you are flying and what to do when that happens.
He clearly instructed me on the emergency signals and measure to take when water enters my mask or the breathing tube. Yes, that can happen.
I bit on my mouthpiece and clasped it between my lips as instructed.
“Breathe”, he said. A whooping sound came out of my mouthpiece (that’s what I want to call it right now) and I got skeptical that there was something wrong with the equipment. Before I could ask him he told me to go underwater and breathe from the hose.
As I went below the surface and breathed, big air bubbles flowed out of my mouth through the equipment. I came up, believed everything was working fine and got in again to get acclimatized. But, this time he pushed down my head, submerging me and allowing me to get the real sense of breathing underwater.
Though Shaolin didn’t have any intentions to kill me, it was indeed scary. Yet, as long as my lungs got their bit of oxygen all seemed fine.
Before I could take in another breath, I was pulled up and out. I was dragged toward the deeper sea by a stranger whom I trusted for my life. Floating towards the unknown for few minutes, we reached a point far away from the rocky shore and stopped. Not a soul was visible around me except those who also had enrolled for this suicidal experience.
My instructor gestured me to put in the mouthpiece and asked me to take the dive.
My First Dive
I filled my lungs with as much air as I could (which I later realized was of no use) and dived into the sea.
The first dip was uncomfortable, the depth was unfathomable and the surrounding was unfamiliar. I immediately signalled a thumbs up asking him to bring me to surface. When I put up my face and removed the hose, he asked what had happened.
I freaked out and tried breathing through nose, but nah! the mask didn’t allow me to, my nose was closed shut—they make you wear a goggle mask that completely blocks your nose and protects your eyes, also allowing you to see underwater.
There was a moment of panic, I gasped for air. My chest felt heavy and under pressure. I could have hardly released my breath when I saw nobody over the surface, my fellow divers were already busy exploring the sea.
“Let go of the fear”, I thought.
I clasped my breathing equipment as tightly as I could with my teeth and under those grey, rainy skies, unaware of my location, finally dived into the depths of the blue waters while fighting my will to breathe through my nose.
The hue was blue, the colour prevailed everywhere. I couldn’t see the floor. I grabbed my instructor’s hand tightly—that very moment fear crawled the insides of my chest and I breathed hard.
A line of bubbles glided up over my head. Shaolin had told, “Saans lene mein kanjoosi mat karna (don’t think twice before breathing deeply and comfortably) “, but I had developed an array of fears in a matter of seconds, one of them being what if I run out of oxygen.
While taking those quick, heavy breaths, I could clearly hear the oxygen rush through the hose into my respiratory tract. I feared the water would seep in through the mouthpiece but it didn’t. I feared it would enter my mask and glasses, but it didn’t. I knew I was going down and deeper into the sea and I breathed, deep and hard.
I felt a rush of adrenaline accompanied by a thrill that I did survive the dive. I deeply felt each and every breath as I breathed in the oxygen-rich air. Dragging each breath, I realized how precious my life was, how valuable these breaths are, how I would die under water if I remove my mask and breathe in the water, unable to resurface in time.
The Sea Life Underneath
All this while I hadn’t noticed what was happening around me. With my eyes wide-opened out of excitement, I looked around to see dozens of fluorescent fish swimming with such grace and elegance that I let them be. They were undeterred by the aliens that would visit them every now and then to say hello.
Vibrant and vivid colours of the aquatic life grabbed my attention and I didn’t realize that I had already left Shaolin’s hand and started flapping my webbed feet towards the magical marine life that gradually presented itself amidst the misty depths.
Though he held me all that time like a child holding his school bag from the top, I was dangling but free, floating as if under zero gravity.
The corals, big chunks and smaller ones, strange-shaped, colourful and dull formed the rugged terrain of the seafloor. Coral mountains seemed to have invaded the sea though most of them were dead (you can tell by the ombre shift from the alive ones to the dead). With so much human intervention, that seemed evident. Moreover, I was glad we didn’t venture far and disturb the richer ones in the deeper pockets of the sea.
Strange looking organisms resided on the sea floor, a plump and black snail-like creature with spikes on its back, a shimmering pair of blue lips that opened and closed as if they were breathing—clamps as they called, are molluscs, resembling something like above in the picture.
We only went about 5-8 meters below the surface. I wanted to touch the sea floor and so I did. It was a surreal experience!—the sand was coarse and when I let it slip, it didn’t fall but disseminated into the water.
A professional diver took our pictures with the underwater camera. There was no way of communicating so I was utterly confused when she held the tiny camera in front of me and gestured me to pose—but we did get some great shots.
Shaolin held me all that time and kept managing the Buoyancy Controller, which helps you float and control the depth during the dive—I could hear the pressure release but never did I really care about the technicalities.
I immersed myself in the leisure of diving. At some point, my throat and mouth started feeling dry, inhaling only from the mouth wasn’t easy after all. However, survival instincts kicked in and I kept breathing and deviated my attention somewhere else.
I looked up to see the surface of the water. It seemed like a separate world, far from me and the one I didn’t really want to go back to. But, we had to retreat. Unknowingly I was pulled up and I followed, flapping my feet and getting closer to the surface.
Breaking the diaphanous surface, I emerged from the water, still breathing through my mouth. Shaolin helped in removing the mask.
I was quiet and still, then, worried because my brother was also in there. We had given each other a high-five inside the water. Amazing isn’t it? I recognized him in the water where everybody looked similar—strange creatures with black bodysuits and life-supporting equipment in contrast to the aqua life around them.
“They already left.”, Shaolin said. I was alone there floating in the water, clueless and still absorbing the sudden series of events that had taken place. One moment I was below the water, living each instant in peace and calm and the next one felt as if I had been taken out of the womb of comfort into the commotion of the world.
One moment I was below the water, living each instant in peace and calm and the next one felt as if I had been taken out of the womb of comfort into the commotion of the world.
I saw dad coming towards us, he said it had rained cats and dogs in the past 20-25 minutes and I was oblivious to everything except daylight.
I had never breathed so peacefully as I did under the sea, never felt such a combination of tranquillity and excitement at once, never felt freer and been in such a close and lively interaction with my surrounding.
Everything was there, right there, under the sea, a world both different and difficult. I realized I had more control over myself and lesser over my environment and I enjoyed the fact that it was so.
Tips To Follow For Scuba Diving
1. Never go for diving when you are sick. Even common cold can give you a tough time though you may feel your nose is in your favour being naturally congested.
2. People with heart disease, high blood pressure, ear infections, balance issues and respiratory problems must take special care. Your declaration forms require you to tick or cross against a number of medical conditions following which the team will decide whether you are fit to dive or need a green flag from the doctor before doing so.
3. Listen to your instructor carefully all the time—it will keep you alive, more importantly, confident that you will be able to do it.
4. In case of any problem, let your instructor know. If the belt is too tight or the hose seems uncomfortable, ask them to wait and give you time to get accustomed to using the equipment.
5. Remember the sign language, it is the only way you will be able to communicate underwater—for the beginners, there are just four, so it isn’t as difficult. But, I did confuse between ‘OK ( ok sign)’ and “Take Me Up To The Surface’ (Thumbs Up sign).
6. Breathe with ease, be it deep, slow or quick, don’t limit your breaths. You will not run out of oxygen.
7. The instructor is always by your side, one instructor per person makes it easier for them and convenient for us. There will never be a case where you share your instructor unless you are going for a diving course—that is a different story.
8. Anytime you want to come to the surface because you feel uncomfortable, tired, dizzy, pain in the ear, heaviness in chest, breathless or suffer an injury, let your instructor know with the thumbs up sign. You will reach the surface in 5-6 seconds.
9. Pick up an early morning slot for diving—you will have a better visibility. For recreational dive, the depths that are explored are no more than 12 meters.
10. In Andamans, dives primarily happen in Havelock Island and Port Blair, Neil Islands come last in terms of preference. You will have to contact your agent (preferably in advance) who will take you there a day or two before the dive for registration.
11. The cost of diving in the Andaman Islands is no more than 3500 Indian Rupees for a leisurely 20-25 minute scuba dive up to a depth of 8-12 meters— the depth solely depending upon the oxygen consumption and ability to acclimatize to the conditions.
“Contest entry for The Adventurer Blog Contest May 2018 by Bikat Adventures”