Fearless By The Sea
Sometimes diving into your deepest insecurities is all it takes to sail through
As a diffident 10-year-old, I’d sworn off swimming for life the day my friend pushed me into our neighbourhood pool believing it would rid me of my aversion to water. The incident only made me fear it more. So when my husband turned out to be a so-called ‘water baby’, it felt ironic to say the least. To be clear, when I say ‘water baby’, I don’t just mean someone who enjoys a splash more than the average Joe. My husband belongs to the competitive swimmer, daredevil cliff jumper, and extreme water-sport aficionado category. Me? I panic when the force of the shower is stronger than usual. Chalk and cheese, fish and … ferret? Oh wait, Google says ferrets can swim—I can’t. But you get the point.
In those early days of marital bliss, we were high on love and the joys of ‘adulting’. Basking in heady, newlywed glow, we were both eager to please and forgive each other’s idiosyncrasies. For our honeymoon, all he wanted was to lay by the beach, so we chose the idyllic Maldives—trendy, beachy and romantic in equal measure. My husband knew about my aquaphobia—irrational though he deemed it—but assumed its cause was a lack of experience in the water.
So, on the second day of our trip, bored of snorkelling by himself, he convinced me to sit pillion on a jet-ski while he drove. Against my better judgement I assented, buoyed perhaps by the liquid courage of numerous margaritas and his assurance that he would never let me be harmed. Of course, five minutes into our designated slot, the high-speed contraption upended and we went headfirst into the Indian Ocean. Here’s a dramatic play-by-play of what happened next: a sudden stillness as the water formed a wall overhead with only the sharp reflection of the sun providing light; shock, disorientation, panic; and finally, when our life jackets bounced us back to safety, a feeling of overwhelming breathlessness and copious pools of tears that rivalled the ocean that had just spat us back to the surface. My husband hopped back on the vehicle in a flash while attempting to keep me calm and pull me back on as well. Once back on firm ground, I swore off water activities for good.
Some might think a one-off dramatic episode like this would, in time, fade from memory. But subsequent trips and water encounters only strengthened my stance. I frantically prayed to the gods when our private yacht met choppy waters during a stay at Capri, Italy. And on a wellness getaway to a famed spa in the Himalayas, I undertook past-life regression therapy, which laid the blame for this ridiculous fear on a previous life where I’d drowned. I mean, who could argue with that?
A short while ago, when we found ourselves on the other side of a global pandemic, the travel-bug began to nibble again and we decided to return to the Maldives. Much had changed in the eight years since our last visit: the newlywed of then was now a mother of a six-year-old. Circumstances led to a career change and I was now a writer. My water-phobia however, was intact, so my vacation plans involved lots of sun and sand.
My son loves both the water and animals, and he was most excited about seeing sea creatures up close. I delighted in his excitement, but when he set off with my husband to enjoy their on-the-water fun, I was left out in the cold—the fear that had made its home within me made for dismal company. Bottomless margaritas had lost their charm to motherhood too. Mostly though, I worried that my son would think me weak. Or worse, assume my fears and emulate my tendency to stick to shore. It’s one thing to dislike swimming but trying a few easy activities while harnessed to a life jacket can’t be too bad, I rationalized.
So, I did it. I forced myself to participate in as many water-based activities as I could, including snorkelling, parasailing, and taking a precarious family ocean ride on a device called the ‘water sofa’, which had us clinging for dear life to an inflated seat, while a motorboat pulled us along to the refrain of my son joyfully shouting, “Top speed!” while I joined in with cries of, “Please slow down!!”.
Why did I do it? Perhaps it was the pandemic’s lesson about the frailty of life; maybe motherhood encouraged me to face my fears; maybe the magic mumbo-jumbo of past life regression therapy actually worked! I’m not really sure. Somehow, though, all I seem to recall from that trip is the look of unbridled bliss in my son’s eyes as he discovered a tiny sea creature in the shallows or held our hands tightly as we skimmed over the glimmering waves.
Glimpses of the author parasailing (above) and snorkelling (below)
The author with her family enjoying a water activity in the Maldives
Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various Indian and international publications.