Summer….Oh it’s so hot these days.One of the most boring period of life for office goers. The heat becomes unbearable even in India, and people take this opportunity to cool off at hill stations around my country.
That being said about grownups, summer is the time most of the school kids wait eagerly for. It brings the much needed break from schools and studies and, heat or not, lots of play time.
My childhood summers were just plain days, with lots of activities like cricket(bat-ball, as we called it), and sometimes, kicking football in the evening on the neighbouring ground. But one of the activities which brought lots of pleasure, and some relief from the heat, to us kids, was swimming.
As mentioned in my earlier posts, I am a villager, and we donot have recreational facilities like swimming pool. There might be lots of swimming pools in those days(When Mumbai was Bombay, and the trains ran empty) in the city, but the only swimming pool I knew, and used, was the one a kandivali in Mumbai. The only swimming facility in our villages were the common irrigation wells used for watering the farms. Now this wells are very big in side and even reach as much as 20-25 fts in diameter. Also they were very deep and always held more than 6 feets of water during peak summers. These wells used to turn in to a playground for grownups and kids alike during summers and provided for ther basic desires of swimming.
But I had a problem. I was afraid of drowning. And above all, I was afraid of heights. To get down to the water level, we had to step down on the flat stones mounted on the sides of the well. These stones were just enough wide two feet, but spaced far apart, about 2-3 fts. Using these facility to go down was not a worry for grownups. But we, the short legged kids, had to sit down on the steps and stretch out our legs for the next step. Thinking this to be an almost impossible feat, compounded by my fear of height, and complexed by the fear of drowning, I avoided going near the wells. It was a common tradition to throw children who feared water, into the well( with other people already inside). That child, once inside the well, would almost always get over his fears.
But I was not thrown in to the well. I used the kandivali facility, since my dad’s school, St. Francis D’Assissi, Mt. Poinsur, had arranged swimming classes for students of their school.
I was thrown in to the deep side of the pool, lifering around me, by my dad’s friend, while the children got in to it using the steps in the shallow side.
I managed to come out, and was thrown back in again. That was his last throw. I never came back out, guessing his intensions. Within seven days, I could swim across the pool and in few days more, along the length without the life ring. But by the time I was ready for my village well, my life ring was punctured, and my father wouldn’t buy another.
So I went to the well one summer afternoon with my brother and friends. The journey was covered halfway on shaky legs, and remaining half by dragging me to the well. I promised to enter the well on my own if they promised not to push me(of course, there were elders in the well, cooling off and supervising). Now, I must describe the life ring in villages. Its either two coconuts tied to each other which provide enough bouyancy, or two oil containers made of plastic. The plastic ones were rare since we used postman oil, which came in metal drums, so wewere left with only one choice, coconut. I doubted the ability of those two coconuts to help me float. I tied the float across my waist, and took my own sweat time to lower myself to water level. Each step took about 2 minutes, with one leg down, then back up again, then other down, no no difficult to balance, then back to first leg. And each of my step was vibrating at resonance.
Finally in to the water, I felt I had conquered somthing big. Slowly I picked up swimming without the floats, or had to because the floats were rotting off. And the swimming sessions kept on extending, sometimes going as long as 2 hours.The cooling effects, and the exercise that swimming gave us in those days had no substitute.
The summer swims continued all throughout my school and few college years. But as more and more people started to have jobs, the attendence at the wells declined till a point that there would be only 2-3 people swimming.Finally, I was one of the people to drop of the well swimmers list due to job. Later I did get to swim in a swimming pool on my ship, but that swim has no comparison with the swim in a cool well.
Due to lack of usage, the well has become dirty, and is only fit for irrigational purpose. Face lifting it is not worth as there are no people with enough spare time at home.
I still yearn for the cool summer swim in the well…