"He lives the poetry that he cannot write"
~ Oscar Wilde

SCUBA Diving
Reveries of a Diver

Kersi Khambhatta is a sailor and a diver who lives and breathes the ocean. He loves music, as long as it isn't on television, and plays the guitar.

Once upon a time there was a little boy who dreamt of being a Scuba diver... Rubbish.

No such thing ever happens.

Your parents or school counsellor never talked about it. Your childhood heroes were probably dead rock-stars, basket-ball players or simply averagely photogenic individuals who emoted before movie cameras.

Not many kids went into slumber dreaming of being strapped onto steel tanks with moist wet-suits, lips clamped obscenely around rubber things, imaginatively called mouth-pieces, ungainly footwear on their feet. Well, did you?

What you probably did was spend a good many hours imitating a drowned rat in a chlorinated swimming pool, firmly deciding that the surface is what separates the smart-olive from the foolish dead. No one mentioned that you could carry air down with you and be a pretentious little sub-agnate life-form.

Scuba Diving
Diving Experience
Discovering Diving
Ocean of Joy

Islands of Adventure
Islands in the Sun

Adventure activities
Rock climbing
Scuba Diving

No, you found that out for yourself. For whatever reason :-
  1. Someone conned you that it could improve your sex life
  2. Too many Bond flicks
  3. After 15 Himalayan peaks, adrenaline surges almost wrecked your nervous system
  4. You were saturated with routine work, mediocre vacations or perhaps only the smothering attentions of someone who induced you to say, that's it, I'm off.

If you're in this part of the universe, in India, the closest destination would be the Lakshadweep Islands where life-size aquariums await you, where you forget all your past efforts to stay afloat, where you decide that being all human is perhaps a little over-rated. That's easy.

Gautama Buddha sought it under a tree; for lesser mortals it could be at the end of an arduous three-day journey which included, for me at least, a bus ride of 48 hours to Cochin which left me a little arthritic in my joints and a 24 hr. ship journey spent in the august company of lungi-clad individuals who haven't yet found their sea-legs and haven't yet lost their appetite. Disastrous paradox.

I'm presuming that the reader is not some half-naked, golden-brown water baby who has only ever woken up to glorious sunrises over turquoise waters and surfed coral-reefs on dolphin-back before breakfast.


You are, I presume, a city-dweller who has watched his white bathroom tiles run black every time the soap washes off, tasted expired diesel fumes and experienced the unique sensation of carbon-monoxide narcosis.

In other words you are a Techie in Toxic City, wherever that might be.

So, what is it to be? Do you want to live the way natural design had ordained or quietly accept your second-class status on the lower rung of the industrial food-chain?

Life is hard, techie, all those decisions.


You leave the back-water-resplendent city of Cochin, watch unregretfully as off-white harbour water transforms into a rich blue of the deep, unharnessed ocean. Liberation starts from here on. The mind instantly become calmer, pulse rate drops, jaw-muscles unclamp, nerve endings switch off one by one leaving basic, life-preserving faculties ticking. Good so far, huh?

The rest of the day passes. Got a good book? Or perhaps you can vegetate out on deck, go into a prolonged shav-ason. Whatever turns you off.

Night descends. Full moon or moonless, it can be an eye-opener; as the throb of the engines lull you into sleep, you may get the feeling you stepped off the edge and somewhere behind you a world of ulcers and high blood pressures still turns.

A new day dawns. Mark it. Arguably, you've reached that point in your life when things won't be the same again. Welcome.

The vessel stops around mid-morning. Palm trees line the immediate horizon. That's your destination.


The captain dare not go much closer. Uncharted corals lurk, capable of turning your up-to-now sea-worthy transport into the Tropical Titanic.

Your fellow passengers are thankful most have reacted unadmirably to the gentle roll of the vessel which rocked you into the deepest sleep.

The island of Kadmat spews out a squadron of boats that ferry passengers home; you scan the fleet wondering if you can hop on. Then you see it; a craft of splendid yellow, set impeccably against the sun-sparkled azure of the lagoon, nose held high proudly as its outboard ploughs deep through the water. Executes perfect skid turn and is alongside the huge bay doors.

Lycra clad individuals step on board while the outboard purrs patiently. Firm and strong hands grip yours; you stare into calm but piercing eyes and know these people are spending a lot of time in very tranquil places. The spinning world recedes a little more in that moment.

You step into the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) and are surrounded by miscellaneous scuba gear and more moist, long-haired individuals hanging their auras out to dry.

You tip-toe gingerly around them and find yourself a place to sit. The RIB speeds thru the lagoon towards the southern tip of the island, where the dive school is situated.


On the way, if you peep over the side, you see forms and shapes in the water, colours whizzing by, a kaleidescope in fast-forward. For once in the last 24 hrs your pulse may pick up a bit.

A wooden jetty shoots out from the sand bank into the water. The RIB heads for it. The hard-core metropolitan survivor in you begins to have concerns about waking up and poof! finding it all gone.

Nothing of the sort happens, of course.

Calm eyes and calm voices make you feel at home and later hand out your gear : mask, snorkels, fins to be looked after by you for the length of your stay.

Later that afternoon, initiation starts with the above mentioned equipment. The water is bath-tub warm and only 2 metres. deep with a sandy bottom.

Your head slips underwater, the snorkel tube wiggling above the surface like an enemy periscope; your teeth are clenched onto the rubber mouthpiece at the other end of the snorkel : your link to surface air.


Every time your grip slips just a little you aspirate water, gag, thrash around, kick up a sand-storm and screw up the pristine visibility you had.

By the time the dust settles, the fauna have fled to far less turbulent places. You just did a Monster from Outer Space on them.

You swim along, are instructed to get your bloody finning right, don't cycle, flex from the thigh, which is great if, during your formative years, you avoided the drowning rat routine and did serious laps in your local pool; otherwise it's an altogether different experience to use muscles you never knew you didn't have.

Finning is almost everything; separates the men from the boys every time the current picks up.

Then you make like a duck, jack knife into the water, your fins waving smartly for a brief moment at surface dwellers and you slip under, snorkel and all, with a lungful of air. You fin underwater close to the sand for as long as your fitness level permits you, then surface and eject the water from the snorkel with one sharp exhalation.

Anything less than total expulsion of the water in the pipe and your next lungful is going to be very wet air.


With every sharp exhalation, you are also ejecting your past urban existence, so do it right.

It's five in the afternoon, you are 14 degrees north of the Equator and the sun scorches your back while you attempt to be amphibious.

You emerge a little breathless, a little saline on the inside, a lot more on the outside and sigh as the sun approaches the uncluttered horizon like an unbuoyant balloon; a day fairly well spent, a giant step for all urban mankind. One of their ilk is getting there. Good for him.

Daylight is decisively over a few minutes later. Someone puts a CD on the hi-fi and cool jazz wafts over the water. The work day has been concluded. Now it's chill-out time, not, fortunately, the MTV kind. No crappy sounds here, techie.


It's time to forget, live in the here and now, open out your pores and absorb. No discordant notes, everything in synch with wind and water. The Spice girls may visit only if they are banned. No posturing, please. This place is holy.

Tranquil voices tell you all about your immediate diving future. You listen, sip beverages that are non-alcoholic, not so much because you are in Muslim country but because you wouldn't want anything to come between you and your (perhaps) first touch-feel encounter with Planet Earth as it used to be before the wheel.

You are thirty feet from the waters edge on the western side. One hundred paces to the east leads you to the other shore. Coast to coast in thirty seconds.

You are intrigued. You look at a chart on the wall. You see a sliver of land running NNW-SSE, a little sand and palm tree sea-horse, the head to the north, a pretty curve to the south and a mild feminine bulge in the centre. Real estate doesn't get much better.

Perhaps the city shark in you might pop its head and wonder if you could do a land buying deal. Not a hope. Unless you marry an islander. Hey, we're here to live. No digressions.

Your sleeping arrangements range from downy mattresses in air-conditioned quarters to the slightly more spacious outdoors; with myriad galaxies and constellations and only the rest of the universe looking down upon you.


So, techie, what do you choose? One presumes you brought along a sleeping bag. Heck, on a two thousand odd km. journey surely you'll plan on contingency sleeping arrangements.

So you take your bag, head for the wooden jetty which shoots out into the water. An inch of soft nylon separates you from wooden planks &and is great for the back, ironing out kinks developed in urbania.

Light from light-years away winks down at you. Empathise with it. It's travelled a long way, just like you. Slide into sleep.

A new day. You taste its newness. Are you with me? When was the last time you tasted newness? The first time you fell in love, perhaps. Happens to you often? You have my sympathies.

That Tin-man-in-salt-water feeling is gone. Joints feel well oiled. After breakfast, you come in physical contact with your essential wardrobe while sub-agnate. A buoyancy compensating jacket (BC), a steel tank full of air compressed to 200 bar and a stainless steel gizmo with four rubber tentacles emanating from it, aka a regulator. Two mouthpiece, evolved cousins of yesterday's snorkel, that have demand valves incorporated into them which allow you to aspirate air freely from your tank, dangle at the ends of two of the tentacles.

The third has a coupling at the end which fits onto your BC, to let in and out air as necessary to fulfill your buoyancy requirements. The last leads to a pressure gauge that informs you of the air status in your tank.

Calm voices instruct you on usage and method of kitting up. That done, you're ready to plumb depths. Your own as well.


So you flip off the side of the boat, sink to the bottom, fin away expertly and see the most wondrous sights ever seen. Nothing of the sort happens.

The falling part is easy. Mouthpiece clamped, one hand over your face mask, tank turned on, you lean back and let gravity do the rest. You don't sink to the bottom.

Fat cells in your body act as voluminous reservoirs of air causing annoying unwanted buoyancy. You want to sink for a bloody change and your body insists on bobbing ungainly on the surface.

Unless you're a physically fit, lean, mean, muscle-only type homo sapien, you will need additional weights to help you sink. Strap on.

Finally you submerge. Mother Nature's womb.

That's when physical laws intervene. Pressure outside builds up at a rate of 1 atm. per 10 metres of depth.


Body air spaces reduce in volume commensurate to the increasing pressure. The inner ear shrinks like a deflated balloon. Ear drums bend inwards causing pain. Act now or damaged ears. You clamp your nose and force your ear-drums to pop outwards, thereby equalising the pressure. Relief.

Or perhaps not. You just came in from he mucky metro, your sinus cavities are perhaps full of mucus, formed as a natural defence against god knows what inhalants you've been subject to. Major problem. Your eustachian tubes are dammed off with the mangy stuff. You huff and you puff but your ears won't pop.

What, diving career shelved? Well, yes until you have de-mucked, or is it demuced, yourself. You grumble, mumble a head back.

Years of self-preservation kick in habitually and you instinctively reach out for the nearest round object encased in glittering aluminum - The Magic Pill. (You actually brought some along?) Desist, Techie. Here's how instead.

Take a kettle with a narrow spout that'll go up one nostril (available at the dive school), fill it with warm saline water, tilt your head at on obtuse angle and let the Magic Fluid pour down your nostril. Feel it wind it's way through the other nostril. (Don't forget to breathe through your mouth. Or you'll be the first Scuba diver to drown on land). Takes about five minutes to be an expert. Et voila, no mucus. Ears pop like corn on a stove. Go dive.

You are now unhindered by the Dark Side of Physics. The rest of your body adapts admirably to pressure once the ears are taken care of. Demand valves are working to meet your demands. Lungfuls of air when you want them. You've harnessed technology to be in a place you don't belong. Good show, scoobie (for you are no longer a techie).

Once the brief euphoria of superiority wanes, a medium of conscience (perhaps), kicks in. Should you be here ? Is it your imagination or are the fish's eyes widening in fear? Are they skittering away, communicating telepathically with each other to do the same?

Stop. Look at it from their point of view. A first time diver descends. A grotesque, misshappen form. Ludicrously colour coded. Oddly oriented, sometimes vertical, very rarely streamlined, kicking up an ungainly wake with disproportionately large tail fins curious flapping digits.

And the noise. Followed by an eruption of aerated water every time the diver exhales. They don't know it, but they're just had a first hand sound and light experience of a human breaking wind. Wouldn't you skitter? Or cross the road or something?

Blending takes time. Lots of hours of practice to get it right. Unless you are a natural. You may be. Find out.

You hear names being dropped. Kinder Garden, Class Room, Heaven on Earth, Garden of Eden, Sting Ray City, Jack Point, Shark-at-alley, The Wall. Places you will visit.

The first two suggest a lot, don't they? They are where you go while you're learning to blend. Shallow (5-10 metre) sandy patches to do a depth charge number on, while the surrounding flora of brilliant coral looks on thankfully. They live another day.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.