“Auntie, where did you learn swimming?”
Standing at the shallow end of the swimming pool, I was vigorously shaking my head to get rid of the water in my ears when this girl, around 10, approached me.
“Sorry? You said something?”
“Yes auntie. Where did you learn swimming?”
“Umm…in a swimming pool in Dwarka.”
“How long did you take to learn all the strokes you do. Especially butterfly?”
“I took long. Almost two full seasons. Breathing and butterfly took the longest.”
“So they taught you all the strokes there?” Asked the mother of this girl, inching closer, who was hitherto standing a few feet away. Her curiosity was piqued by now. On her shoulder clung her younger daughter. I had an audience of three.
“My girls admire you. The way you swim non-stop. And also your butterfly and diving. So we wanted to find out about your trainer,” the mum added. “Beta, introduce yourself,” she chided her older daughter who looked at me with zero interest in personal introduction and complete interest in swimming matters.
Shelving introductions, I came to the point. “Actually I didn’t take coaching back then. It used to be expensive. I would see the trainer swimming, and teaching children, and I picked up cues from there. After learning the basics, I surfed youtube for tips.”
I could sense a collective jaw-drop. Feeling self-conscious and wanting to offer practical help, I hurried to add, “There are thousands of videos on youtube for swimming, but the ones by Speedo are the best. They offer very good technical advice. Little things that can improve your strokes by a great deal.”
I tried to make it normal but their pupils remained dilated. Over the one week I had spent in that pool, I saw that trio every day. The mother was a good freestyle swimmer. The children were averse to swimming, and she and the trainer kept trying to discipline them into learning.
“Wow. You’re self taught? You’re an inspiration for my girls.” The mother was effusive in her praise. The girls grinned. I felt grateful, embarrassed, and confused. Confused because I didn’t know whether pushing children to learn swimming was the best way to teach them. I saw the mother genuinely trying and the children barely responding. Now I have zero experience in parenthood. I don’t know what the best way to teach kids is. I swear by being an example and the mother was certainly one.
“Thank you so much. With a professional trainer and a mum like you, your children will learn way faster and better than I did,” I hoped that and said that.
What I didn’t say to them was this: I had wanted to swim for as long as my memory goes, for my love of water. My parents couldn’t have spared the time and resources to facilitate that desire. So I acknowledged my hunger and nourished it through my growing years. I took to swimming when could afford to drive my own car to the pool and pay my own fee, at the age of 25. And then, I made a dash at it like it was nobody’s business.
I swam when there were 100 people in that 15x25 meter pool. I swam when I was down with fever because of excessive swimming. I swam when the chlorine level drove others out of the pool. I swam when the pool was empty on account of rain and lightening. I swam without water goggles for a week, struggling with red eyes and blurred vision throughout the day, because there was no Amazon delivery in those days. I swam the week the water was muddy because the cleaner hadn’t come on a Monday. I swam when the water turned olive green due to some chemical reaction. I swam through layers upon layers of sun-tan. I swam even when my teeth got discoloured due to chlorine reacting with high TDS in Dwarka water. I swam from 50 to 100 to even 200 laps a day. In one of those mad endeavours, chronicled here, I almost swam my way to the hospital. I swam possessed.
My mother kept my breakfast ready whenever I returned from swimming. That was help enough. I don’t know how I would have reacted in a different situation. But I know one thing for sure. My parents didn’t interfere with my hunger to swim, and that hunger was my best teacher.
“You can always ask me for any help you need,” I offered as a closing remark because I had to wrap up another 300 meters to reach my self-imposed target of 2.5 km a day. And then I swam with the new found responsibility of ‘inspiring’ young children.