It’s 3:45 in the morning. And my alarm is wrecking all kinds of havoc. I’ve slept 2 hours and it’s time to go to work.
The good people at Frodo Cam are launching their camera campaign this monday and they’ve asked me if I’d like to be a part of their campaign. Tarun is an old friend of mine, and built my pre-expedition video, so as I drag myself out of bed, I’m gearing up to a day of paddling hard.
At 4:15, Tarun is home, and we head down to strap the kayak atop the car. It’s tedious work and you don’t want drowsiness to get in the middle of securing the kayak. When that happened the one time, I was driving with a 19 foot long kayak hanging sideways over the car with trucks missing it by whiskers.
Thanks to a really tight schedule, I’ve not topped the car off with petrol, so at 4:30 in the morning I’m driving into a petrol pump to sleepy, confused stares at a white kayak atop a car with two rough-ish people in it. We pick up another frodo-ian who will be coordinating the shoot today.
Enroute, it’s talk about kayaking and exploration. Our experiences and building campaigns online.Bombay is awake at the oddest hours and there is a stream of steadily moving traffic even at this hour. Finally at 5:30, the car(&kayak) is safe at Marine Drive. I plan on launching from Chowpatty beach, but decide to swing by H2O and check if old Pandey ji would let us through for a quick video. I’m stunned to know that let alone Pandey ji, H2O doesn’t stand there anymore.
We bring the kayak down and start setting up. I’m ready moments later with my skirt, paddles, water and gopro. Tarun is against having a competitor product in the frame, so bye for now go pro. As the team lines up, I’m left to take in the beauty of bombay in the morning. It’s 6 o’clock and the evening lights that adorn queen’s necklace are still on. You can hear the hum of the city waking up as the trains run past marine lines. The darkness turns to blue to shades of light orange in the sky. People walk past us in the busy-ness of Marine drive. Joggers, cyclists, morning walkers. The people who clean our streets are already at work. And I will be too.
Frodo’s founders join us, and we chat about our work. We share a college, so there are many questions about how either of us are doing what we are doing. The director of the shoot takes over, and at around 6:30, we start lining up our first shot. It’s the take-control shot, where I pick up the kayak by the bow and drag it down to the water. Frodo is this lovely camera mounted onto a wrist strap like a watch and it’s in a uniquely yellow form. The take is easy, but many a slip between the cup and the lip, so we rehearse.
After 8 the water will turn into a mirror for the sun. I express this to the team, and I’m on the water. For a simple pass by the camera. We do about 10 takes of this before the team is happy with the outcome. I’ve been keen on taking this particular shot of a back profile kayaking, and after a little playing around with a selfie stick, we have Frodo planted where we want it.
And finally, it’s time to head out. I jump into the kayak. Legs in, skirt cemented and paddle away. The first stop is the police vessel. Pradip, my kayak instructor and guide, tells me we can spot dolphins just off the police vessel. As I approach, the night shift is just finishing and I watch about 7 officers jump aboard a small dingy clearly not made for as many. With no life jackets, the eternal optimism of bombay makes me smile. No dolphins, so I decide to capture the second most beautiful vessel out here today, Godrej’s yacht parked out 1.5 kms from shore.
I approach and with the shifting wind, the boat shifts to greet me. As I drift alongside, the crew on board views me. I wish him a good morning. My lack of sleep means I’m probably not my most chatty self. But as I sit there, he asks me if I need water, clearly worried about the sun taking a toll on me. I’m touched, but I have my own supplies. I ask him about the dolphins and he points me in one direction. I take off, and it’s a great decision.
I’m rewarded by waves and wind. The kayak is drifting along nicely now and there’s more urgency in paddling. Nothing trumps a shot of adrenaline. And I’m having a good time. In the middle of all this, I spot a lone red flag, propped up on thermacol. Probably the work of some fisherman, but bobbing up and down, it’s a sight.
I spend some time at it, and then turn around. The waves are behind me, and I can feel the morning air strong on my face. It’s a good run. But it’s made better, by the solitary fin that rises gracefully out of the water. And then just as gracefully completes the arch and slides back in. Dolphin spotted. I point and stare. Then I try and follow it’s intended path. But nothing. The water has gone back to it’s natural state and this dolphin doesn’t want to be seen. Not today. I don’t take it personally, and kayak back to shore. I’ve been gone almost an hour, and one of the founders remarks that I’d gone pretty far. Sometimes you just have to.
Back at shore, there are a couple of shots that need to be redone, and one closeup of me using the camera. And then, the fun bit. We load up the kayak on the car, and barely have I finished when the fun part of my outings begins. Talking to cops. The one at marine drive flat out refuses to let me go, citing public nuisance. Eventually, after a fair bit of talking, he lets me through.
At JVLR I meet two more of them. I dish out to one and refuse the other. A small price to pay for a glorious day.
If I stand still, two brahminys eagles will sail overhead, talons out to attack each other. The white heads screech out and swoop down over the clear green water.
If I stand still, as the river bends, the golden glow of the setting sun will crawl over the water to reach me. But before it’s piercing rays start their work an idle cloud blows in it’s way & sends crimson across the sky.
If I stand still the sea wind blowing the cloud, dissipates the heat of 12 kms of kayaking up river. Palm trees rustle in the wind and sway shadows in the water.
I am kayaking in the Chaliyar river in Kerala & everything here is crimson, green, blue & yellow. As I explore Kerala, the way I know best, I ponder on my love for things swift. Racing, with the wind in your face, is my rush. Still & I aren’t found in the same pincode. And yet, Kerala has brought that out in me. Locals call you over to their boat, or the riverside to simply chat with you. The language barrier melts as I explain the speed of my kayak to a fisherman in his colourful boat.
Another 3 kms on, a father & son are standing still in the middle of the river. The young one translates for us when his father enquires about the price of my kayak. He seems unfazed by the cost, but the fact that you can only fit one person in it puts him off the purchase. After a fair back-and-forth, he reaches into a plastic bag and holds up a green back crab. His son smiles. Dinner.
A bridge emerges & brings me back to civilisation. I hasten to avoid it, but as I draw close, it dawns on me. I stand still to reflect on the realisation that I am invisible to civilsation. Up on the bridge, in buses packed to the brim, or in the silver Audi working it’s air conditioning over time, one lone kayaker 30 feet below in a meandering quiet river is so insignificant, that it’s both heartening and sad. A well spent moment taking it in.
I realise soon that it’s a busy river. I meet children jumping off of rock cliffs. I spot elders smoking on the side of a river, fishing lines out, underneath a billboard ushering in new-age products these people never asked for. Everything is in juxtaposition here. I turn around and head back, picking up the pace. I’m cruising when I spot a youth nestled in shrubbery, his house hidden from clear view. I smile thinking, atleast the young ones are the same; busy texting a girl far from the prying eyes of a conservative family. Before the smile reaches it’s edges, he looks up, and with one swift motion flings out the bait he’s been meticulously rigging on the end of a thing fishing line.
The only sadness in beauty is leaving it behind. Waking up at the doorsteps of a superb temple here in Divegar, I had my breakfast of cold milk and cereal. The three eggs from yesterday evenings home stay / restaurant were protein and I took a tablet for the upset stomach I’ve developed. I had slept a bad 4 hours last night, a condition brought about by collapsing into bed in the afternoon after a 5.5 hour paddling run and the aforementioned stomach. I trudged down to the car in my dry-fits and a short and damp shoes. When you’re in Kayaking everything is always in varying degrees of wetness. Your phone lifetime is less than halved and when you check into a hotel, you look for a good place to dry your wet clothes. Everything chafes, sores and gets sunburnt. While practicing for the Asians in March 2013, I developed a tan that lasted me 6 months. That’s 6 months of not being on the water. The cold morning air cut through the cocunut trees and my thin clothes.
The driver was found watching a marathi soap in the morning. Everyone tells me I know how to enjoy life. They haven’t met my driver. In his eyes life is a breeze. If it’s too far he says it’s too far. If he can’t make it through a thicket of leaves that my mother has just walked through, he says he’s not going through. If it’s 5:30 in the morning and he prefers watching the climax of the fisherwoman who lost her son to gambling, well. He does do a mean massage though.
We were checking out. That’s the other plus point of an expedition. You arrive and unpack, then eat, get a few laughs in, then you pack again. It’s really just a circle of life kind of thing. Minus the sunrises from cliffs. That costs extra. Getting everyone into the car and then down to the beach was a fun exercise. If we were any more awake, we’d check on who’s the most awake. We don’t. Except when my driver is lost. He tells us.
Down at the beach, our good boatsmen are on patrol. The safety boat, more a measure of appeasement of parents who worry a bit, is a km out. It will take an hour to get the local watersports owner to take out a rubber inflatable boat (RIB) out to the boat. Mid-way he tells them it wasn’t inflated properly. Never a dull moment.
I get down to stretches. My driver gets down to the aforementioned massage. My mom inspects proceedings, while my dad takes in the aforementioned beauty that is Divegar. I like that word. Reminds you that there’s an important aspect you might have trivilised. Like putting all your life jackets into the boat. Then parking the boat a km into the water. Trivial. I mount my go-pro, stow away my rehydration drink, and pick up my kayak. Down at the water, I wade in. The water is cold for the first 3 metres. Then the warmth kicks in. I slide in, wave bye and paddle away. No safety boat or life jacket today. Dirty Harry and his 9mm.
I survey the water ahead, I have to make a beeline for the cliffs to the left. It’s easy going at first. A strong high tide pushes me to the rocks and I clock in at 8km/hr for the first 30 minutes. I sip my drink. At the end of the first hour I’m at 7.5 kms and I venture a guess that the safety boat is readying itself. In an hour my go-pro will give out. I need that safety boat. Ever since Limca asked for video proof that I kayaked the whole way, I’ve been paranoid aobut it. I paddle on. Between 7:30 and 8:30 I see the coast. It’s the kind of quiet you’d get in a british town after an air raid siren went off. Or a Tom Cruise movie about aliens coming to kill us. Minus the waves. The waves have a calming sound that you want to listen in to. If you weren’t busy keeping your kayak stable. Around the same time, I hit a stretch of choppy water. Every turn, every swell costs me and by the end of the 2 hours, I’m down to 14 kms. But I’m not tired. It’s not as hot today and I feel pretty good. I glance back for the safety boat. I hope they’re safe. Then I paddle on.
I pass by a stretch of beautiful beaches, and a bunch of inlets. Fishing boats passing by wave usually. This one didn’t. It made a beeline straight for me. I could hear it with the sound of their engine rising. Finally he killed it and asked me where I was going. A kayaker in these parts was towed away to police once by a fisherman. I didn’t fancy towing. So I stopped. Explained him the plot. Goa would make me sound wonky. So I stuck to Harihareshwar. Placated I was not as daft as I dressed, he waved me on with good fortune. I sipped some energy drink. Then I paddle on.
When my Go-pro finally gives up, I’ve been paddling for 2 hours. When the safety boat finally gets to me, i’ve done 16 kms, and they congratulate me on making it so far. I’m glad they didn’t get lost. I take my first break for the day. As I swap my go-pro, refill my energy drink, and down an apple, 4 minutes pass by. It seems Harihareshwar is just-yonder-hill. What a waste. I was in such good form. I calculate 5 kms. At 21 kms that would be my leanest day. But I’m based out of Harihareshwar for a few days. And it’s silly to press on. I resign myself to it, and follow the boat. 17,18, 19 kms. Then the boat draws parallel to the beach and stops. I pull up close enough for them to say there’s a jetty just beyond the next turn. Bankot. My boatsmen want a dock to tie the boat to tonight. The things you own, end up owning you. So I paddle on.
Dolphins. Schools of 5 or more. Graceful, grey, godammit dolphins! I love this part. The way they surface, snort and go back in again. After the sound of the waves, they’re the next best sound. Or before. It’s a grey area. I pause for dolphins. Then I give chase. They are a little faster. So I paddle on.
On the cliff face to my left a crowd of people are walking. It’s getting to hot to discern them waving, so I paddle…
Around the turn I see a big creek. Bang opposite is Velas. The sand is a dark shade of brown. And tall pines make for a sight to take in. My safety boat has stopped, and we confer. The jetty is deeper into the creek, but Velas is a safe beach to land on. We have to part ways, when Santosh says “Police.” Sure enough a grey police RIB is making straight for us. I sip some energy drink. But mom goes into a frenzy. My mom is the most proper person I know. She couldn’t do a dishonest thing if her life depended on it. (She’d do it for mine though.) She gets out the papers from the Coast Guard and the Maharashtra Maritime Board. Before the police man can whip his gold-rimmed aviators into the back of his shirt collar, she’s at the bow telling them we have papers. In the back of their RIB, I hear one person say – “Kayak Ahe!”. I’m on the safety boat’s starboard side and I holler a Namaskar. I tell them we are on expedition. A short pause later the policeman asks us – “Are you on an expedition?” Cool.
We tell them we are going from Mumbai to Goa. He inspects the papers, one leg in the boat, one on the edge of the boat. It’s just 3 hours into paddling and my go-pro is juiced. I reverse and make for their starboard side to get it all on HD. As I go by I see the same policeman leaning over the other side of the boat with his phone out. Taking a picture. I ask him if he wants a close up. As I bring it closer, he asks me about my sponsors. Touchy nerve man. So I paddle on.
As I make for Velas beach, I take in a good place to land. While the long stretch of beach lies just beyond a small creek, I spot a small 50 metre stretch that looks like it has a bright blue tempo. There must be accessible road, so I make for it. I land nice and slow, checking for rocks. As I up the rudder, and brace for surf, I see two young men on a bike. I dismount, pull up the kayak to safety and take off my wet skin. As I’m doing stretches, I field questions from the men there. Everyone loves photos, so I take one with the quieter of the two. Shadab asks me if I’d like to come up to his house. I welcome some shade and I stow my wet things in the day hatch and walk up. He tells me he’s got African Turkeys. Hilarious. So we make for it. As we climb up the rock steps Shadab tells me about his rooster and it passing away abruptly. As we go to the back of the house, I see the monster of a turkey. It’s a black feathered beast that’s having it’s fill. Shadab tells me it can swipe the flesh right off your arm. I think about the rooster. As I look up, I meet Shadab’s father. In just my black shorts and a hydration pack, I must have been a sight. Even the turkey flared up it’s feathers and that big bag of blue flesh under it’s beak turned a blood red. I don’t enquire about the rooster.
Shadab’s father insists on giving me tea. And I for one am not complaining. In a parallel universe where Monster flesh eating fowl flock hillsides above brown sand beaches, my safety crew has docked and mom and Shanj are having their own interoggation about the vessel with customs officals. My dad and the driver are enjoying a ferry ride with the car. I would have had network had my phone not already gone swimming. So I sip my hot tea and have the crispest toast I’ve had. Shadab’s father is the baba at the Dargah at Velas. I have landed at the footsteps of the dargah. He was studying in a school in Bandra when, at the age of 12, he was called to succeed his grandfather at the Dargah. I see pictures of him over the years, and his seat at the Dargah. He’s really the nicest man. Mid sentence, I get an inkling that I should man the road, lest my worrying mother speed on. With the kayak tucked away under the wall, it would be easy to miss me sitting here atop a hillock. Literally the minute I reach the gate, I see a rick running past with my white adidas jacket on the left seat. Before I can holler, they pass us. I try Shadab’s phone but apparently there is no network where they’re headed, so his father sends him down with me. We jump on his nifty bike and run through Velas village. A quaint village that sits on a small river that runs down to the sea. Shadab tells me it’s popular for turtles. And people come all over to see them. As we zip through the village, me still in just my hydration pack, I imagine my mom being the last person interested in turtles if she doesn’t see her son. It would make for a fun line of enquiry. As we run through the town at great speed, I see my mom just alighting from the rickshaw. No Shanj in sight. I wave to mom. And she slaps her head. Then starts calling out over a bridge. In the distance I see an orange-life-jacket-clad shanj running through a field. Russel Peters would be so happy.
My mom tells me how the rickshaw ride has last 20 minutes during which the only thing the rickshaw driver has told them is that Velas beach has a point where the water drops 150 feet and is a deathtrap, even for locals who know the area. Why this would make for good conversation with two women who are worried sick eludes me and Shadab and I have a quiet laugh over it as Shanj returns to hit my arm. One less area for my driver to massage.
we head back, me still on the bike, and dismount at Shadab’s house. Here the network catches and we inform dad about where we are. I finally change out of my dry shorts and sip some water. (We are out of energy drink.) As dad arrives, I introduce Shadab and I make good on my promise of visiting the Dargah. Back in the day, Shivaji had once halted at Bankot on his way to conquer Murud. The good Baba, that is Shadab’s father’s ancestor, had warned him against it and told him to wait. Shivaji, being the hot blooded guy that he was, pressed on and hit a storm. He returned to get counsel. We visited both tombs and the Baba wished us safe passage. He invited us to see his Takht (Throne) and he insisted on getting his robe on for it. On leaving he presented us with an Ittar(perfume) that he got from his trip to Haj, to remember our trip by. Shadab walked us down and I found out he’s just in the 10th standard with a board exam on the 3rd of March. He likes motor cars. I wished him all the best and promised to send him pictures.
Bundled in the car, we drive back. The ferry ride at Bankot meant more eyeballs on the kayak and it gave us time to laugh at the day’s events. Tomorrow we take our safety boat and kayak back to Velas and set out to conquer Murud. And so, I’ll paddle on.
One of my favourite poems ‘On his blindness’ by John Milton ends
Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
A friend of mine, Sandeep Mhatre, had buzzed me when I last checked into Karanja. A 17 km paddling trip that was one of these flights of fancy. I’d returned home to powai when he’d seen it but I promised to meet him saturday morning.
Waking up at 7 today, I have to say it took a long time to get on the water. A few days back, I’d lost my right eye contact to a wave while re-entering my kayak(subsequently, I tried in vain to get back in). So I broke a new case open, got my glares out and was ready to hit the water by 9. A good warm up and I hauled my kayak down to the water. The plan was simple. Cut straight across to Uran following the flames. I sent my spectacles and my contact lens box with a friend who would join us in Uran. 100 metres in, I felt my right eye twitch. I felt my contact travel down my cheek and fly into the water. Good luck finding that again.
I had two options. Head back to the club house and open another contact lens box or paddle to Uran. So began my 8.5 km trip with one eye. Now, I know it’s probably romantic thinking of an eye patch and a wooden leg, but the ground realities are that when your kayak is being washed by waves on starboard and a nice morning wind is slapping your right cheek, the depth perception of two eyes is a good thing. I had to veer off quite a bit, and like Frodo & Sam, make a circuitous route to the eye of Mordor. (Flames of Uran) It made for a fun trip and my brand new waterproof earphones, that Saurabh kindly gifted me for my birthday, dubstep blaring, was a bit of a distraction keeping me from hearing the waves. I changed course and made more for Karanja, planning on hugging the coast when I got there. It meant a bit of headwind and I learnt to make peace with that. Little by little I corrected my course till I was staring right at the flames. Keeping them to my right, I carried on, past the dargah, across a line of rocks and in between the fishing lines. An old couple on a rickety green boat was making for shore. As they saw me, they enquired who’s boat this was. As my reply went – mine, they asked me where I came from. I said Mandwa, and got an incredulous question back – is there a motor attached. I said – No. Bewildered he went – Chappu? I wished them a good day, and paddled on past the broken jetty that was our decided point to meet with Sandeep.
As I disembarked and walked my kayak to shore, I was happily reunited with my spectacles. I swapped out the lens and sat to admire the stretch I’d just bested. While Sandeep couldn’t meet us, his brother Sanjeev and his wife, Anita had brought their boys, Dishant and Mohit, down to the water. I took Mohit out on the kayak and he loved the way it ran on the water. He looked a natural taking my club carbon paddle and even stroking the water. A passing wave rattled him a little but only for an instant, and when we finally took him out of the kayak, he had the paddle stuck in his right hand. #startingyoung
Sanjeev, very graciously took us to coffee to a lovely place overlooking the water and it was a welcome break, talking about NDA and sailing and my upcoming trip. It was an hour well spent. I wanted to cast off, since the afternoon wind wouldn’t be in my favour and I didn’t intend on being stuck in the sun for any longer than I needed to.
I set off and skirted past the fishing lines, pulling my rudder up in the ones I couldn’t avoid. It seemed to be going well enough, when I realised my right eye was leaking. I contemplated washing it out, but thought it would probably pass given time. I was wrong. As I waded deeper into the water, crossing into the channel, the irritation got worse and I found myself keeping my eyes shut for longer durations of time. The glare off the water was immense and very soon, I could keep the right eye open just for a few seconds. Again, I found myself paddling blind in one eye. There were a few things in my favour though. For one, the water was calm. Secondly, the wind hadn’t picked up considerably. Mid channel it was anyone’s guess where the waves were coming from, but I kept the pace. I barely braced, but corrected my course multiple times. Starting with Gull Island to my starboard, I ended up crossing it at port, something that was necessitated by a series of rocks on it’s east side. Past the island, I figured I needed to correct my course further, and the ferry from Bombay helped a blind man remap Mandwa. When I was past Gull Island, with a couple more kms to go, the glare was blinding, and with just my spectacles(spectacle to be honest) I had a tough time keeping an eye out for sudden waves. When I arrived at the jetty, I was a little more at peace. I rushed ashore and washed out my eye. It felt so good, I even did away with my PFD and did a km run within sight of shore.
I’m not one for standing and waiting, but paddling hard over Land and Ocean without rest seems just fine.
Today was the first day waking up at Mandwa. I’ve been, very kindly, put up as a guest at the Bombay Sailing Association Club house by the gracious and extremely affabale Randhir Behl. A long evening of kayaking yesterday, aggravated by a heavy wind and rocky waves, meant I woke up with a touch of soreness. Since no one likes waking at the clock, I snoozed till 8:10.
I stumbled out of my room and was greeted by the extremely caring attendant, or mama, who enquired about my breakfast. I was happy collapsing into the chair and awaiting a double omlette, I downed a cup of coffee laced with a strong dose of sugar. Good morning world.
Passing past Battery Park, I waved to the circle of friends I’d made the day before. And headed to pick up my kayak. The good natured Sridhar helped me take my beauty out of the housing and I took it straight down to the water. I had an idea of what I wanted to do today, and a good warm up after, I was in the kayak paddling away. The waves were kind today and after a few practice drills, I set off for the fishing village just off the cliff at mandwa. And what a glorious sight it was. The sun was out and it paled everything that the mist hadn’t already conquered, but through it all, one could see the outline of an army of fishing vessels. Anything else would be a gross understatement as I stared at 20 big fishing trawlers. But only for an instant. Then I was gone. It was a good route with a 2 km downwind stretch that let me test out my kayak. Heading back I got the headwind, but it was quick going and I had no complaints as the sun hadn’t set the air on fire.
On the run back, I was plagued by fishing nets. Not wanting to jump in and have to release it from my rudder, I chose to paddling through the minefield of bobbing thermacol. Pulling up alongside one, I found that I was not the only person avoiding it. 10 metres off my kayak, a grey creature emerged, took a deep breath and dove back in. As always, everything stops for dolphins. And I slowed to watch him do it again. He, like me, was looking for a way out. Every now and then you find a kindred soul in another species.
I made a couple of runs and ended the morning session with 15 kms in just under 2 hours. It wasn’t my fastest and I found myself bracing in the downwind conditions. But it was fun. A couple of seat adjustments and a deeper seating meant I was more in control.
Lunch was very welcome. And I dug into the rice, dal and bhindi that made me nostalgic about Kolad. I wolfed down on it, and it helped that the moushi had asked me twice over the amount of rice I’d requested. (My own estimations of how much rice I eat, were grossly exaggerated) So I ate as much as I could, and took a walk down to the jetty. My friends from battery park were in the process of leaving, so I took the time to say goodbye and headed back home.
A group of very bubbly women had recently checked in to the club house and I set about welcoming them (including agreeing to take one of them on the water in the afternoon). I then retreated to my room to catch up on some rest. My body had been asking for it. A quick nap and that alarm I’m getting so used to loving, chirped.
My clothes from the morning were sufficiently dry and I picked my kayak and dove into the water. As the evening high tide swung in, I found the going more fun. The evening wind was strong and my short forays were met with much resistance. I clocked another 7.5 km and then brought the kayak in for my capsize drills. The water was a lot calmer than yesterday, so I enjoyed a fair amount of success. All in all, I spent about 2.5 hours on the water. Then I hauled the kayak back and decided to call it a day.
The evening has been kind. And I’m finding out how much I adore a hot water bath. There is probably nothing sweeter after spending 5 hours on the water in various degrees of being soaked to the bone. I polished off my rice and moushi produced some fried fish that I used as desert.
An old sailing friend, Muruggan Nadar, is holding a beach party it would appear, so I’ll sign off and see if I can soak in some of the bonfire. From Mandwa, feeling good, this is Kaustubh Khade Paddling Hard.
An hour into training I hit it. That moment you get hit by that feeling. I started the day spectacularly, with some quick rolls. I was out of the water instantly after toppling. And I braced on. Things were going smoothly when I missed a roll. Unable to get the paddle back I surrendered to the river and Rajesh had to swim in to toss me over. All the spectators on their weekend office trip, who till now were delighted to see me disappear and reappear with only the pretty blue hull of my kayak to show for it, stood a little quiet now. I shrug it off and get back into position. Tilt left, turn right, go under. Position the blade, take a moment to breathe (or not) and sweep. Air, light, boom, Water. As Rahesh rushes to position himself under me, I realise I missed again.
As I grab some air, and wipe the water off my face and eyes, I ask myself, What gives? Undettered, I reposition and fall back in. Same result. The quiet spectators make way for worried spectators. And I’m struggling.
It’s called Pain.
My hip was sore. And my knees ached. The toes that had found some allowance in that baby kayak were being asked to clear out, and were seriously considering it. My shoulder would hurt if it felt something. And I was back to sq. 1.
It holds true for nearly every sport I’ve tried. At sailing, for a week I had no gloves and a broken jam cleat meant my hands chafed every session. During the races I felt no pain. At archery, the first few sessions my left arm knew what the bow string tasted like. When Oscar changed our technique while kayaking, my calves cramped. So, Why do we do it?
Why am I spending a sunday afternoon trying to repeatedly drown myself when there are other pursuits? Why should I endure back pain tonight? Or put myself back in that tight kayak tomorrow morning?
I can’t honestly say. I guess on some level it’s a reminder that you are doing it right. Your first steps in anything tend to be like that. And after that first fall, first taste of ddust, first mouthful of river water your body becomes more ready.
The first time I kayaked a distance I was hit by a gust of wind heading back, and it put me off balance. I was 2 Kms off shore and there wasn’t a soul in sight. In our lives we experience pain and we shy from it, avoid it even. Take a day off working out, or give up an activity altogether. This, when it might be the very thing we need. In the basic way of looking at it, aren’t we All born off pain. Kicking and screaming we’ve made it this far. And we have a long way to go.
I took the kayak to the launch site, squeezed my severely cramped legs out, let the water out of the kayak. Took a breath or two. Got my feet back in and execute the rolls to perfection. We start at 8.a.m. tomorrow.
With baited breath you wait at the arrivals gate of the airport. I’ve been here tons of times, with tons of friends and had many a fun moment scaring, exciting and surprising people. And yet, today I wait with baited breath. With an unspoken anticipation that is telling to present company.
My cousin Rohit, or RB, was kind enough to purchase, parcel and post my brand new kayak paddles just in time for the journey. I do not know the person I am to receive, just a name and the familiar sight of Epic Paddle bags. Her family awaits at the head of a queue of eager, bubbly, teary-eyed, red-eyed people awaiting their sons, daughters, wives, mother-in-laws, bosses.
I however, am the only person checking out luggage.
An hour of waiting and I see them. Proudly mounted atop two other suitcases. My babies are here.
Decorum dictated I didn’t rush Mugda. Or hug her and jump up and down in glee. After the requisite time allowed to her to greet family and friends, I respectfully approached at her brother’s calling. Thanking her and her most accommodating brother Sourabh, I whisked away my paddles and let the family have their space.
As you can see, I wasted no time in letting them out for some cold(?) Bombay air. And have been fawning over them all day today. The black one is Sphinx. (After Vinnie Jones from Gone-in-60-seconds.) The other needs a name. Suggestions?
A lot of people ask me if it’s lonely out on the water paddling for hours.
As the evening sun began to sink and I was into my 9th kilometre of the day. I looked up at my watch to see how far out I was.
Out of the corner of my exhausted eye I spotted the tell tale signs of something making its way back under.
And my evening was about to get infinitely better.
I made for the spot which my fellow mammal had so recently vacated, and stood still. I was rewarded as 1,2,3 dolphins made their way to the surface 30 metres from where I stood (or floated presently). And what a playful lot they were. The water was warm and, like self aware actors that enjoyed their craft, they loved the audience.
Sitting right between me and swiftly dimming light on the horizon, they rose and fell, ever so gracefully. And it was clear they weren’t coming up just for air. As the first came up, the second had his snout out and playful nuzzled him, pushing him out and over the side.
One can only imagine how playful they were under the water.
I sat the for a full three minutes lost to the spectacle. Then I kayaked back. Knowing I was not alone on the water.
Up until yesterday afternoon I had known madness in the form of Bear Grylls and Freya Hoffmeister. Sandy Robinson and our own Lt. Cdr. Abhilash Tomy.
Yesterday I met someone who has crossed the Pacific Ocean on a JetSki. He’s done a 18,000 km trip from Rome to New York on a 3m Jetski. To say that it’s madness is an understatement. To say that it’s being free is an even bigger one.
At the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, he gave a modest audience a 30 minute lecture on his expeditions, what motivates him and what the sea is to him. I spoke to him of my expedition and he was happy to meet me today morning.
I met him at 9:30 this morning, after navigating some good bit of office traffic. He was full of ideas and things to share. And from his wealth of experience, I gathered some important insights –
Water, water, every where; Nor any drop to drink.
Navigating with the wind, setting it behind you as far as possible
Trust in fisherman. Not the weather guy.
Wear a white cotton t-shirt. If any clothing at all. (You are out in the wild, aren’t you?)
Maps and Navigation
Logging the event
He’s promised to help out with any questions I may have. And I probably will have more.
But the important question that he answered yesterday itself – Sharks are like Pitbull. If you don’t give them a reason, they won’t bite you.
More on his exploits – www.pacificdiscoveryexpedition.com
To say I’ve always been in sports is to call a shark a fish. I dabbled in a host of sports (still do) and was sports captain at school, vice-captain of the football team at Junior school. In 2009 I graduated from IIT Delhi and shortly after I took up kayaking. In 2012 at a national championship for Dragon Boat racing, I got selected for the national team to go to the Asian Championship in Thailand. In our maiden tournament we won 6 silver medals and 3 bronze.
The national anthem plays for the country that wins gold, standing on the podium awaiting silver, it hurt us deeply not hearing it, .
Subsequently I focussed on kayaking as a solo sport. A year later, I found myself in Thailand again, but this time for the Asian Sea Kayaking tournament. I represented India in the 13km race and finished 5th overall.
The mission here is simple. Promote sports.
I’ve been lucky to take up sailing, archery, football, rugby, swimming, and track. And it’s taken me ages to find a sport that I truly excel at. There are many out there that are far from it.