I have loved swimming since childhood. I considered myself a bit of a water baby, luxuriating in the other-worldly feel of the pool or the sea the minute I stepped into it. But I have also always been painfully inhibited about my body. I was on the swimming team in my school in Abu Dhabi, but the medals never made up for the embarrassment and extreme self-consciousness I would go through every Monday when we had our swimming classes, to culminate in a cloud of blush-red agony on racing days when the entire school would be witness to my plump derriere and chubby thighs.
After adulthood and marriage, which came almost simultaneously, my swimming days were confined to holidays abroad, and the occasional five-star hotel membership. They dwindled further in the past few years when the kilos piled on, and a busy schedule was good enough reason to keep the swimsuit tucked away at the back of the cupboard.
But I always missed it. It was like I had locked away an essential part of myself.
Last month, on an official trip to Neemrana Fort Hotel in Rajasthan, I took a short dip in their hilltop pool with a few women colleagues. The water was chilly cold, but it didn’t bother me. I was swimming after years and was as excited as a child in a toy shop. The sensation on my skin, the ecstasy of floating on my back, looking up at an infinite sky… The experience triggered off childhood delights and a determination to return to my true bliss.
For indeed, swimming is one of life’s most brilliant pleasures for me. I suppose it is the combination of weightlessness and silence that does the trick. It doesn’t matter what number your scale read out that morning, you are as light as a child inside the water, free of your body’s limitations and baggage. And once you immerse your head, the stillness and calm that envelop you are hypnotizing, a glimpse of what life must be like for a foetus in a womb.
And so, that day in Neemrana, I decided not to give up on a source of pure happiness in my life just because I didn’t like the way I looked (and wobbled). I joined up for swimming at my local club this weekend, and stepped out of the changing room bravely, despite it being peak time when the pool was full of screaming kids and patient moms and dads. Of course it was excruciating. Of course it was mortifying. Of course it was fun.
Sometimes God is there for the asking. And sometimes, like He did with the gopis, Krishna steals your clothes while you are bathing in a river, and insists on you walking naked towards him, your arms raised above your head, in order to get them back.
You surrender – and you win.