Saturday, December 24, 2011

Swimming In The Dark ... !!

It's not a secret to most of the people who know me that I am in love with swimming. Having made it my favorite past time for the last 5 odd years, the love affair refuses to end. I aint complaining. Its quite refreshing to swim early in the morning. Sets up the entire day perfectly. Fitness may be an added incentive but I love swimming just coz of the feel and the experience rather than the fitness aspect. Did I forget stamina? Well, almost.

People also find me weird. For good reason. Not that I am obsessed with doing weird stuff but somethings have happened and some things have been made to happen. It was quite against the run of play when an opportunity for adventure presented itself this week.

I swim at Parsi Gymkhana(PG) which is situated at the most isolated of army surroundings in Camp. People who know the Hollywood Gurudwara in Camp will relate to this beauty of a place. Surrounded by trees and lonely narrow roads with the army quarters setting up a picturesque avenue. PG stands alone with its evergreen campus and lonely atmosphere.

Being winter, lot of people do not opt to jump into ice cold water at 6 in the morning. I was also one of these people until some years back but now I seem to be smitten by these early morning dips. So, there are only 2 regulars at PG nowdays. A guy called Tulsi and me. Tulsi runs around the Race Course before coming to PG. Something Amruta and I used to do for a considerable amount of time earlier. Nowdays, I just go to PG. Tulsi and I have become good friends over the last 3-4 months and I like people who are regulars at PG. Whether they swim or not is immaterial since there is so much you can do at PG.

I will like to provide some history before I actually narrate the adventure.

When I first started swimming at PG, it used to be open well before 6 am. A Parsi uncle (we now call him Keku uncle and thats his name. I swear.) used to open the Gymkhana. Initially I thought he was the owner of the place but later I realised that the owner was too lazy to get up so early on in the mornings and hence asked a good samaritan like Keku uncle to do the needful. Keku uncle is a 87 year old man and he is fit as a fiddle. Happened to be Mr. India in 1952. Thats what he says. I have no evidence though. But I dont doubt one bit that he must have been Mr. India. Has so many stories to say in typical Parsi manner. But since age is not on his side, he was quite irregular at the pool which meant that the Gymkhana would remain shut on days Keku uncle was not able to come to the pool. So the baton went back to the owners who employed a person called Bhaskar to open the Gymkhana in the morning.

Bhaskar is the typical government employee. He will work according to his will and wont budge on most occasions. He was being late everyday for the last 2-3 weeks which meant I had to go back home without swimming on many occasions. One day, I lost my cool and we had quite a verbal altercation which was quite ugly for any onlooker. But it seemend to have an effect since he started coming earlier than normal. We had asked him to come up 0630 hours but he started coming even earlier by 0610 or 0615 hours. This was quite pleasing. This also meant that Tulsi and I started coming even earlier than normal days.

It was Wednesday when I reached PG at around 0615 hours. Tulsi was there too. He told me that Bhaskar is going to go to his hometown today which meant that his replacement (Munna) will open the Gymkhana today. We called Munna and he told us that Bhaskar's trip has been delayed by 1 day and he will open the Gymkhana today. Bhaskar was there at 0630 hours and that day passed without anything worth writing about.

Thursday. Same time. Tulsi and I were there at PG. Today, Bhaskar was not going to come. It was going to be Munna. We called him and he said that he will try to come only by 0645 hours. Now what?

PG has quite a big campus. There is this huge gate which is the entry point to the campus. Once you enter, its almost 100 meters till the next gate. This gate is the entry to the badminton court, swimming pool and the gym. The area between the 2 gates is mainly for parking on the right and the huge club house on the left. Both these gates are locked when Tulsi and I meet everyday.

There are 2 dogs that have made PG their home. One white and the other black. Every morning, as soon as Tulsi and I are at the gate, these 2 dogs start barking and eventually come out and start playing. Since Tulsi and I had around 30 minutes to kill, we decided to have a stroll down the army quarters. We talked about a lot of things. During one such discussion, I interrupted him quite abruptly and asked:

Me: Ek baat batao. Yeh kutte baahar kaise aate hai? Koi raasta hai kya baahar aane ka? Gate to locked hai.
Tulsi: Hhhhmmm. Pata nahi. Kyu?
Me: Kuch nahi. Aise hi soch raha thaa ki yeh kutte raat mein andar rehte hai yaa baahar.
Tulsi: Maine to andar hi dekhe hai har baar.
Me: Thoda dekhte hai kya? Koi raasta hai kya?
Tulsi: Dekh sakte hai.

PG has a fence manning its campus which runs along the outer gate. Obviously, this fence is the first and last barricade on the way inside. Right? Wrong.

The outer gate has a huge tree which had fallen off sometime back in a way that the top part of the tree has fallen off completely but on the outside while the bottom part is still inside. This top part covers the fence towards the left hand side of the outer gate in a way that the fence is not visible at all. We had to bend down and get within the leaves of the fallen tree. The fence had a small opening which was quite decent for a dog to get through. Not sure if a human would get through but we were going to try. It was quite a good stretching exercise for us but we managed to get in. But there was another fence immediately after the outer fence. We walked towards both the left and right side to find another opening in this fence as well which was even wider than the earlier one. We had now breached the outer gate but we still had to find a way past the inner gate.

Once we were at the inner gate, I walked towards the right (towards the badminton court) while Tulsi walked towards the left (clubhouse passage). Both of us could not find a way past. We switched ends just to be sure. But no luck. On my way back from the clubhouse passage, I noticed that the fence inside was not a fence actually. It was a criss-cross arrangement of bamboo sticks covered by a huge green curtain-like thing. I tried to kick at this curtain with every step just to find out if it results in the curtain going back completely. The first few instances resulted in a thud and it was not doing my foot any good especially on a chilly morning. But then I found what I needed. There was quite a decent opening being covered by this curtain. And Tulsi and I were inside alongside our beloved pool.

It was quite easy just to dive in and enjoy this little discovery of ours. But no. This needed to be planned. Not today atleast. We went back the same way. Met the dogs on our way and were back outside the outer gate.

Munna came at 0645 hours. Tulsi and I were done swimming by around 0730 hours. We both were leaving together. Just before leaving, I felt this is the right time to start the plan.

I spoke to Munna about the time he would open the Gymkhana tomorrow. I told him quite sternly that even 0645 is quite late. He was quite honest in letting me know that he wont be able to come earlier. I said I didnt mind but just let me know the exact time and stick to it. Just to make matters interesting, I told him its OK if he comes at 0700 hours too as long as he sticks to 0700 hours. He fell for it. He said it works out well for him too. 0700 hours on Friday morning. The plan was set. I had intetionally asked him to be late.

I told Tulsi to come earlier the next day at 0545 hours. So that we could sneak in, swim and go home well before Munna arrives. Initially, he sounded interested but just when I got onto my bike, he said he is not comfortable and that its quite risky. I didnt force him to partner me in this heist. I was quite sure I am going to do it.

As decided, I was at PG at 0545. Tulsi was not there. But, something told me that I should not park my bike at the same place as usual. This was coz I didnt want anyone to know that I have come. So people wont wonder where I disappeared after parking my bike. That was the only logic. I picked up my bag and helmet and the sound my shoes hitting the turf was enough to get the dogs barking. God. I completely forgot about the dogs.

Getting in from the gate and sneaking through the fences is quite a different ball game altogether. Will the dogs still relate to me as a daily pool member or as someone who is trying to sneak in? Questions. Doubts. So not my way of a plan. Now what? I had to get the dogs out before I could go in. Else who knows they would tear me apart. Thinking cap on.

I decided I will just about annoy them to an extent that they would come out without sacrificing on my well being. I sneaked through the first opening of the fence and I made up my mind that I will come out immediately as soon as the sound of the barks went up which meant they were close to me. It worked. I entered and exited in around 20 seconds. The white dog was out in jiffy and he identified me. Part 1 of the Dog show was done. But why wasnt this 2nd dog coming out?

I tried the same trick again but to no avail and I was losing precious time. The last thing I wanted was for Munna to come to the pool and find me swimming away to glory when he was about to open the gate. That would have been chaos. I didnt know what to do. Just then, I wondered whether it would be good idea to just park my bike at the usual daily place coz thats how these 2 dogs came out every day. Why not? I parked my bike outside the outer gate and Voila. Part 2 was done and dusted too. The 2 dogs were away with their other non-PG mates. I re-parked my bike away from the outer gate and I was inside soon.

I know PG quite well. The way the pool works, etc. There is a tap which needs to be opened for the water to flow into the pool. Not that the pool doesnt contain water. But it works on a re-cycling mechanism. The new water replaces the old and so on. There is a motor that needs to be switched on so that water is available in the bathrooms. I did both of these. And I was inside at 0600 hours. I decided that I will swim till 0650 hours. 5 minutes to change and 5 more to get back out. That will make it 0700 hours and Munna will be here.

What followed was absolute joy and beauty of life. No one to disturb you in pitch darkness on a very chilly morning in ice cold water. Normally, the lights are switched on in darkness but I was not gonna risk that. I was just bobbing in and out of the water for the next 50 minutes. I was out by 0650 hours and changed back to my clothes by 0655 hours. I went through all those secret passages and was very close to the outer gate. And then I froze. I was quite careful to turn the tap off but I had forgotten to turn the motor off. If the motor is switched on even after the tank is filled to capacity, it causes the motor to over heat and eventually burn. I ran back and switched the motor off and ran back even faster to be at the outer gate.

I met Tulsi over there and he saw me coming out of our secret passage. He was just about to say something when Munna made an appearance.

Munna: Dekha. 7 bola thaa to 7 ko aaya hoon nahi to aap fir bologe
Me: Haan. Sahi hai.

I start to get on to my bike.

Munna: Arey, kya hua? Jaa rahe ho?
Me: Haan. Aaaj mood nahi hai.

Tulsi smiles wryly at me and I promise to meet him tomorrow.

An adventure well planned. And took me back to times when I hardly cared of what I was doing. Over the last 2 years, I have treaded a path ready to explode. Boundaries have not felt like boundaries and it always takes me back in flashback mode.

I relate a lot to the opening few lines of Rockstar. I have my own version for Rockstar's version.

Sahi aur Galat ke beech ka maidan. Yaa to mujhe dhundna hai yaa fir ... fir se banaana hai.

Swim ke liye saala kuch bhi karega ... play the music ...

Cheers ... !!