Swimming Towards Freedom

Ramesh had spent the night camping on an island with a small
group, and at the light of dawn, had to go back to the mainland.
He stood on the island’s shore looking at the huge expanse of water all
around him. The mainland was visible in the distance, around a kilometer
away. Everybody started heading back in their small boats and
canoes. Instead of joining his friend in their canoe, he decided to
try and swim the distance. Though he was just an amateur, he felt no
apprehension as he was wearing a life jacket.

There was no place to rest, except for one small patch of land in the
way maybe 400m away, but he started off anyway. He started to get
tired quite fast, but could rest with the jacket safely
lifting his head above the water. The water was a lovely shade of
blue, and At least 40 feet deep. He looked downwards to see the dancing
sunbeams penetrating it till they disappeared into the darkness.

Under normal circumstances at the deep end of a swimming pool, he
knew enough to splash around and keep himself afloat for around ten
minutes, until he would start getting tired and start to sink

So in this case, where it was so deep he couldn’t even see the
bottom even in such clear water, the prospect of being there without a
jacket was quite terrifying. He believed that without it, he
would surely drown, because whenever he became too exhausted to
swim, he would struggle helplessly and start sinking like a stone.

There were a few others in the distance… his friend was coming with a
canoe, and a small group was rowing slowly in a coracle (a circular
boat), and the group leader was in a canoe along with his wife, each
making their own way towards the mainland.

Ramesh swam with the life jacket for approximately half the distance,
upto the intermediate patch of land in the middle. The leader was
there with his canoe too, helping some people get on to the land from the
coracle just to sit for sometime.

Ramesh got onto the island to take a breather. A strange idea struck
him. He realised that he was depending on the life jacket like a
lame man depends on a crutch to walk. One may need the crutch in the
begining, but as long as he forever depends on it, he will never learn to
walk. Discarding the crutch, he may fall a few times, but he has to pick
himself up and go on. On the other hand, he may injure himself so much
that he may never be able to walk again, but it is a risk that he has to
decide it’s worth for himself.

A feeling of defiance overcame Ramesh. At first he tried to ignore
it as totally irrational, but then kept thinking about it for a short
while, and then took the decision.

He handed over his life jacket to the leader and said he wanted to
go the rest of the way without it. The leader asked him if he was sure;
but he explained to the leader “Though I’m not very sure of my
swimming, I’m totally convinced that I’ll never learn as long as I use
this jacket!”. He felt that in order to learn something, it was
sometimes useful to forget that he didn’t already know it

The leader saw the conviction in his voice, and agreed and took it.

It was a huge risk, but he took a deep breath and started off.
As he went ahead, the leader kept coming alongside him with
the canoe. Every time he felt tired and breathless, he would
mildly panic, then cling on to the canoe and catch up with his

Gradually he realised he was now using the canoe like a
crutch. He had to free himself of all crutches. This might seem like
a very dangerous thing to do, but somehow he had this gut feeling
that this is what he needed to do.

He requested the leader to not come alongside him. He
assured him positively that he would manage. The leader rowed away
and stopped at a distance.

Ramesh continued, alone. Every now and then he looked back, and
saw that the leader’s canoe was further and further away. The coracle was
even further away, and one of it’s passengers was singing a Bhaava
[melodious Kannada song depicting emotions]. The song was very
beautiful and could be heard clearly over the water inspite of the
distance, and he found it quite inspiring.

He went on, and realised that the trick was to never exhaust himself
but to keep up a constant rhythm. He found he could stay afloat using a
minimum amount of effort even during times when he was completely
exhausted, and at this time his strength would seep back. He could
exhale very very slowly and just get his head above water for a single
second for the next inhalation. That was all he needed to stay alive,
one single moment above the water to take that precious
inhalation. He could take all the time in the world to slowly exhale

Every single breath was like a careful operation. With the single
slightest miscalculation, any water in his windpipe would feel
like he was choking. He remembered his past experiences in
the city swimming pool when this used to happen, and how he would
panic and cling on to the side walls of the pool. Here there were no walls
to hold on to.

Even here, there were a couple of times when he started to choke,
and had started to panic. He tried not to remember those old memories
of the swimming pool, and with a calm mind remember what he had
learnt: that the body has this natural tendency to float up again. So
instead of the easier way of panicking and screaming for help, he
totally relaxed his body, and found himself coming afloat again. He
coughed and took that precious deep inhalation, and relaxed when he
went down again. Iteratively, he regained control over the situation
and continued.

He couldn’t recall the exact scientific reason – maybe it was
buoyancy, or the law of displacement, or maybe due to the air in his
lungs that he was always brought upwards. But he just didn’t care,
the only thing that mattered was that whatever natural law it was, it was
working! His body was always being brought up to the surface again! And
once he delightfully experienced this natural law, he learnt that he felt
a great sense of freedom! He felt at one with the water, as comfortable in
it as as a very happy aquatic animal!

Breath by breath, stroke by stroke, he inched towards the
mainland. His breathing had become more and more rhythmic. Now
that he was able to stay afloat more or less consistently, he
was able to discover another problem. That every now and then he
would start swimming in a wrong direction. Sometimes when he paused
to get his bearings, he would find himself as much as 90 degrees off

With some observation, he realised that it was because his
arms were not pushing at a uniform pace. Also, he had to set a single
point on the shore as a target, and frequently check against it
whether he was going in that direction or not; else take corrective
action. He discovered that by keeping his fingers together helped him move
faster with the same effort.

The shore came closer and closer, and he could hear the voices of the
children and adults splashing around in delight along its
edges. Finally his feet touched the floor, and he delightfully
dragged his body out of the water, though it felt terribly heavy. He
half-expected that everybody around would cheer and applaud his
achievement, but nobody even noticed him, continuing to fool around
completely unmindful of him. Of course, how would they know, and anyway
how would it matter to them!

He realised that the achievement, if it was one at all, was a
purely personal one, and would not matter to anybody else. He looked
back across the water, and the leader waved at him smilingly; he
waved back exultantly. At least one person who knew! He guessed that
he had kept a careful watch over him. Even further away he could see
his friend coming slowly at his own pace with the canoe. He looked
beyond, at the distant island he had started from. There was
something very odd. Logically speaking, he should’ve been exhausted.
But he was not. On the contrary, he was feeling quite energetic.

Strange… but who cared! He could swim!! He dived back into
the water to join his friend in the canoe.

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