Friday, December 21, 2007

The Purpose of Daman

Every person that we meet, every experience that we have, is towards the learning of something that we need to learn, towards some future only the universe can see. I don’t quite remember where I read this, or some words to this effect. But I find myself turning to these words so often these days. Because I’d really like to know exactly what is it that I have to learn from Daman, exactly what purpose this city is meant to serve in my life.

I’m convinced that Daman occupies a place in this universe entirely unique to itself. There is no other city on this planet that is as astonishingly full of dismal contradictions. This city has four multinational banks but not one bookshop. It has dozens of beautiful beachside hotels and ‘multi-cuisine’ restaurants and not a single coffee shop. It has no less than two hundred bars, but you will never see a drunken brawl anywhere. The last I’m not complaining about, by the way.
It is like being on another planet, or maybe in another time zone. No, being on another planet or time zone would actually offer so much scope for exciting new experiences. Maybe it’s like being on that planet and in that time zone ALL ALONE.

Bright lights, professional salons, book fairs, theaters - these may or may not seem like unreasonable desires. To me, these things define life. People may gush about mountains and streams; nothing warms up my heart more than the neon signed skyline of Bombay. As I long to meet people that I can flex my mental muscles with, I worry sometimes that I will lose my ability to be amusing. A sort of disuse atrophy, so to speak. Will this continual pretense of deriving pleasure from the trivial become real some day? I laugh at things that don’t amuse me, I aim to find thrill among the blandest- will all this change me? Oh God, will I forget how to talk? That’s about the only thing I’m really good at. Seriously, was I MEANT to be in a place so quiet? Maybe there has been a typo error up there in the universe's logs - maybe I was supposed to be in a place that answers to this description AFTER I died, as punishment for the many sins I have not yet had a chance to commit. And what is it that I’m meant to learn here? Ok, let’s see. To learn to live in the moment. Sans people, sans shopping, sans films and plays and interesting people. To learn that there is more to life than just these. But seriously, is there, really?

But there are some real joys in the dullest of places…when I somehow manage to decipher the gurgle of a two yr old and realize that what he said was- ‘come to my house for dinner, Manjot aunty!”- the warmth I feel is something that I had not known before. I have learnt to shop alone, to watch movies by myself, all the books about life being difficult make so much sense- I never did know what the fuss was about self help books before this. Last week I read something about pain being the best teacher in the world. A year ago, I would’ve laughed and used four letter words that refer to the process of defecation but it seems like such profound wisdom now!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Day 14 of the Basic Skydiving Course

Friday, 6 December 2007: The day I got my wings. 

Day 13 - Freefall !!

Thursday, 06 2007

"You will be going for freefall tomorrow morning."

I must've woken up four times at least in the night. And every time, repeating to myself -"Check in-Check out - Horizon-Up - Down - and Arch!!" over and over, like a mantra - I tried to reassure myself to sleep.

Day 12 - The day i jumped out of an aircraft thrice!!

Wednesday, 05 Dec 2007

My very first static line jump and my anxiety to do it well can only be imagined - by people equally crazy. My tandem jump last week was so much fun but I’m ashamed to admit that I had not paid much attention to the nuances of canopy flying. Which is how I’m hoping to explain why I landed in such varied locations today. All they had in common was that they were nowhere near the target landing area. 

The days in between....

Would these magical days have been so magical if I had decided to stay in the mess instead of with the Boses? Logic, experience and well meaning friends say that too much of being together can kill affection like nothing else can. “Ok, so they’re great friends of yours - go to their house for dinner, go everyday if you want, and go spend a Sunday with them - but don’t stay with them for two weeks!!” And yet, here I am, having defied logic, pooh poohed the well meaning friends.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Day 7 - The Day of Disappointments

Friday, November 30, 2007

0900 hrs

It would be funny if it didn't hurt so much. The instructor says - "Ok, please sit down. Hold your left leg straight, bend your right leg perpendicular to your body; now sit on you right heel. Got that? Good! Now hold your left toe with both hands; bend forwards, bend, bend until you touch your forehead to your left knee. Excellent!! Now RELAX in this position...."

Yeah, right. How DID i spend 28 years on this planet without learning how to relax like this ??

As we finally finish the day's stretching exercises, Cdr Baburaj next to me collects himself up from the ground and says -" Wow, I feel so refreshed....owww!!"

My heart is going to break. Aircrafts unavailable. No jumps for the next 4 days.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day 6 - TANDEMMM !!!

28 November 2007: 
Today is the day when the previous batch get their wings. There is a ceremony in the morning, and a party in the evening. As I get back from a long day of ground training, I get a call from Nishant sir who tells me I'm going to get a tandem freefall tomorrow morning."Be there at five."
I will be there sir, with bells on.

November 29, 2007

Having dreamed of being in freefall for close to six months, I was conscious of today morning being as special as it can get. The best thing about a tandem jump is the total absence of any performance anxiety. Lt Cdr Rajesh gave me a short briefing before we boarded the aircraft. It went something like this- "I will be sitting on the aircraft door. You are attached to with this harness, see? And you will be sitting outside the aircraft. Make sure your feet are firm on the outside of the plane - your heels on the belly of the plane. And when when you hear me saying 'out-in-out', make sure you kick the back of my parachute hard. And then, don't forget to arch as we go down. That's all I expect you to do. Get it?"

And I said, yes sir absolutely. I totally get it. But what I was thinking was - OUTSIDE?? SITTING?? I'm sitting outside the aircraft? Why doesn't he just say that he's gong to hang me out of a plane 13000 feet up in the air?

Still, my happiness as we were taking off and climbing was almost unbearable. Couldn't stop smiling, kept on checking the altimeter every few seconds. Lt Cdr Karthikeyan took a couple of pictures of me here and told me he was going to come shake my hand when we were in free fall. "Wow, really??" 

"Yeah, but make sure you shake and let go...don't keep hanging on to to my hand, please? People do that"

Rajesh sir attached the four hooks at this point and made me feel them. "See, you are attached to me at these four points; even one of them is good enough to take your weight. So don't be scared at all, ok? I wanted to tell him I totally trust the harness and I totally trust you sir and I don't feel scared at all. But I think my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth and I couldn't say anything at all . But i did nod. My first moment of real fear was when the aircraft door opened....umm, why exactly AM I doing this??? I took a couple of deep breaths as the other jumpers went out one by one. They don't jump - they just, like STEP hi, i think I'll go out and walk a bit, see you in a while. The crazy exhilaration, pride and fear that i was feeling at this point is indescribable. It's a feeling that I want again and again...and again. Moments later, I was sitting outside the aircraft and loving it. I looked at the camera and I wish I could say I smiled confidently but that kind of thing cannot be lied about, because, well, it's there on camera. Behind me I heard Rajesh sir saying, "out- in- out" and we just fell into the blue skies. It was so beautiful it was like a dream. I saw Karthy sir and the other skydivers - the red jumpsuits against the gray blue skies were so, so beautiful. I smiled at the camera and waved and all too soon, or so it seemed, our chute had deployed. And as we slowly descended to the ground, I voiced my primary concerns - I asked Rajesh sir if I had kicked the way I was supposed to, if I had arched right. "Yes, Yes good tandem, but you haven't looked at the altimeter yet!"

Right. My altimeter said 3500 already! We did a couple of 360 degree turns - he let me do one - then told me to make sure I appreciated the circuit pattern he was making. I did that but I also totally enjoyed seeing how lovely everything looked - the hangar, the aircrafts parked outside, even my friends. We went into full glide at 400ft and I landed comfortably sitting on the tarmac. Karthy sir took a couple of pictures here, then I went forward to meet Surg Cdr B. I told him that I was the happiest person on the runway that morning. And I think it was the absolute truth.

Day 4 - The Runaway Husband

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I remember reading that skydivers always walk the earth with their eyes to the sky. Because there they have been and there they long to return.

I have a fascinating new friend in this course. His name is Surg Cdr Bhardwaj and he has come from Delhi for this course. He is 48 yrs old and he has done a basic course with five jumps some six months ago. He's dying to do more but his wife (understandably, I should think) feels rather apprehensive about the light of her life jumping out of aircrafts. He loves his wife, and he loves skydiving. So he told her he was going on temporary duty to Raipur to do recruitment medicals, and got into the flight for Vizag - one that goes via Raipur, naturally. He feels guilty about the furtiveness of it - he packed all his uniforms, stamps and the equipment he'd need for the recruitment medicals, then he packed the dungarees that he'd need for the course when she wasn't looking. There's so much glee mixed with the guilt!! I couldn't stop laughing all day today. He says- "I hate lying to her, but how could I not come??"

Basic Skydiving Course (Day 3)

Monday, November 26, 2007

How come no one ever told me how PAINFUL it was going to be??? I was prepared for the fear, I was totally expecting to lose sleep with performance anxiety, I knew I would have to struggle with complicated physics. But this back breaking pain...why did no one tell me?

The word "arch" sounds like such an ordinary harmless thing. But for a student of basic skydiving, it is the beginning of a nightmare.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Skydiving here I come!! (Day ' -1' )

23 November 2007


Apparently skydiving is the only thing in this universe that moves me enough to write. I last wrote for this blog some six months back, and it was about well, skydivers. The last six months have been so eventful - a naval orientation course, a serious relationship and an even more serious breakup, so many new friends and experiences, so much sorrow and so many surprising bits of happiness - and not once was I pulled out of bed with this irresistable need to write.

Today was day 'minus one' of the course that I worked so hard to get into. Never before this have I really understood the need for "approach" and "jaan pehchaan" People used to say - "Why don't you ask your father to approach his old cronies to get you posted to some decent place?" Because it seemed undignified and petty to me, that's why. But when a signal asking for volunteers for basic skydiving came in September, guess who abandoned all pride and reticence and "approached" EVERYONE in the world who claimed to have any connection with the Navy Skydiving team? Please, please, oh please get me to the course. I've spent the last six months reading everything that google chacha has to offer on skydiving, I've watched shows on Nat Geo and Discovery with my heart pounding and eyes shining - if nothing else i need to know if it is half as good as my fantasies.

The day the signal came - the one that included my name in the next skydiving course - I couldn't sleep that night. 
I would sit up every few minutes and think - Oh, my God, it is finally happening. Now, I'll know.  My classes begin tomorrow. Can't wait for morning.

Friday, February 16, 2007

On buying phones and getting married

In the old days of my innocence I used to imagine that getting married was a very simple thing, the next natural step in the progression of life. You study really hard, get the degree of your dreams, then get into the job of your life's really beautiful and God loves you so much. What next? Maybe in the middle of all this work and partying and travelling you'll meet some nice interesting guy who will be nice enough and interesting enough to make friends with. With time it'll grow into a wonderful close relationship and you''ll both feel that this team is good enough to be launched officially onto the world. There will some sort of ceremony and then the partying will continue , now in the company of this great creature . As a bonus, you get another family to love and be loved in turn.

Welcome to the real world. With the world's population touching seven billion, and about half of being in possession of the XY chromosome and at least maybe a tenth of it being of eligible bachelorhood...things still look rather bleak. That wonderful lovable creature that God meant you to have seems to be as well hidden as hay in a haystack. You travel the length of the country , you meet and make friends with some really great people, and meet and deal with quite a few creeps too in the process.....but that what you expected to happen doesnt seem to happen at all. Then your well meaning parents organise this project MARRY MANU .They follow the set guidelines for the project - put matrimonials in the newspaper and on the net and collect and compile the results in a highly organised manner. The trouble with this technique is that it makes you feel like a car that needs to be it makes you feel like such a loser -"God, I'm so boring I couldn't find someone in real life, need help from the virtual world!"

Phew! Other than who to marry, the other thing that is occupying my energy and time is which phone to buy to replace my old fuddy duddy model. And I confess that the latter decision is the one I'm actually working hard for. Because contrary to whatever you might have believed, buying a phone is as important a life event as any. So now Nokia India can actually employ me to write reviews for all their latest models. I've spent maybe 20 woman hrs on researching their phone models. I can now categorise them quite comprehensively based on looks, features, camera quality, music quality, prices et al. Today when I went to the Nokia outlet the salesman had his eyes popping out of their sockets at the stuff I knew and the stuff I wanted to know.
So today when my mother came to me and said , come let me show you some more of the guys we've shortlisted, I said, I'll show you something a lot more cheerful. Let me show the two phones that I've finally got to decide between and tell me which one you like better!

On skydivers

February 5, 2007
Five days ago I had no clue that such people existed. Today I suffer from acute skydiver deficiency. Were they here really? Or did I dream them up out of my monotonous daily existence? I should write about it before it fades away into my imagination and I can no longer separate fact from remembrance. And it WILL fade away. It always does. So it needs and deserves to be preserved some where out of my head. So here's my Pensieve:

DAY 1. January 30. Tuesday Evening. Sudden Panic. 04 in no. army officers have arrived at the mess. And they absolutely hate our mess (who wouldn't? but that's part of some other pensieve). The utterly absent mess secretary that I am, I had no idea whatsoever that such an arrival was expected. The first I heard of it was when I was asked whether Comdt Sidhu's cabin could be given to these snooty, used-to-living-in-style devils. Of course it can be given. Why else did that poor old man spend so much money on his cabin dressing it up and then go away on compassionate leave? The mess driveway was strewn with luggage - a veritable mountain of suitcases and rucksacks when I returned from the gym to give Sidhu sir's cabin keys. And two beautiful creatures (I had a near-instant crush on both) were guarding the mountain. My memory was rather fuddled up so I couldn't remember which of the four these two had been, so I asked them later. On day 5.This was Maj R.D. Singh and Maj Sarvesh Dadhwal. I expressed my sorrow at not being able to provide more suitable accommodation and they assured me that they'd survive. What an army officer would feel, on being so suddenly exposed to the coast guard way of life - the confusion and the misery and the disbelief that they were feeling - it's all forgivable I think. I went back to resume my 20 minutes on the treadmill and it was only later that I bothered to find out why these creatures had descended on us. Turned out that there were 04 of them- one colonel, two majors and one captain. They were a skydiving team and they were going to perform as part of the mela celebrations. I was mildly impressed but I had no idea that less than a week later I would be writing about them!!

DAY 2. January 31. Usual Day. Still unaware that my life is about to change.

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