Subject Search Bar

Baby Fishes - One Persons Experience Of Learning To Swim As An Adult

Baby Fishes - One Persons Experience Of Learning To Swim As An Adult

Ayyappan Ramachandran is an India-based storyteller and today he is telling his story of how he and his wife started to learn to swim as an adult

How do they learn to swim? Do their mothers train them to wiggle their tiny fins?

My wife and I decided to test the waters at our neighbourhood swimming centre. It cost INR 3000 per person for 20 days of coaching, by which time, we were assured, we would learn the tricks.

So we dived in one fine morning. Not literally. After filling out the application form, we put on our swimming caps, looked about for a reflecting surface to admire ourselves, and then cupped our eyes with the rubbery goggles. After the rite of pre-shower, we walked around the pool in bare feet to the shallow end, carefully, as the perimeter was wet, and descended the iron ladder one foot at a time, like a baby who had just learnt to walk, and stepped onto the pool’s blue-tiled floor.

Image of Ayyappan Ramachandran and his wife in the pool smiling for the camera: Baby Fishes - One Persons Experience Of Learning To Swim As An Adult
Beginner Adults

The coach, busy moving around and monitoring 3-feet children, asked us to walk across the width of the pool and come back to the row of short pillars installed at our side. ‘It’s the same depth throughout,’ he comforted. So my wife and I looked at each other and thought we would go for a stroll, take in the new atmosphere and leisurely make our way back amidst the swimming passers-by.

We took the first step and felt like trying to move through a hump of wet sand. We trudged to the other end this way, mindful of each step, and agreed that it was enough exercise for one day.

After our return at a similar pace, but with improved familiarity with the water, the ceremonies started one after the other: Bubbling, where we learnt to breathe out under water, and Floating, where we waved on the surface of the water like a carefree plank.

Wait... Get Your Lesson Plans Here


Our coach, a young, fit man, patient with us, demonstrated how to breathe in via our mouth, put our head under water, and breathe out via our nostrils like everything was normal.

[A little background about me at this stage: I am fascinated at the fact that I survived 9 months in a tank full of water because since my birth I have never felt comfortable with water unless it was safely locked up in a bottle or obediently went straight into my throat. When I shower, my left hand would shield my eyes and nostrils from the tsunamic onslaught. If in case the water did manage to sneak into my system, I would enter a fit of agitation enough to panic my family members outside the bathroom. So my relationship with water was like a failed marriage. We lived together, but didn’t care for each other beyond the most necessary interactions.]

After our coach instructed us and swam away to take care of his smaller pupils, we eyed each other nervously, turned around to see some swimmers playing, wondered how the sun shone powerfully at 7 in the morning, and admired its bobbing reflection on the water and then inevitably, met each other, realizing there was no other way but to attempt it.

Usually, when it came to trying something new, we would encourage each other to take the first step. But here, standing shoulder-deep in water, neither of us had the heart to nudge the other towards this cruelty. So we decided to bury our heads at the same time.

Ayyappan Ramachandran' s wife learning to breathe
Learning to Breathe

Without telling my wife I swallowed as much air as I could in greedy selfishness, and put my head down. My understanding was, that once I entered the water, I would revolt against it with all my strength, agitate the entire pool, cause alarm, and attract swimmers to my end to pull out my body and whisper ‘It is nothing. Everything is okay,’ in my ears. But no such drama happened.

Under water, I opened my eyes behind the protective goggles, saw the chequered floor, my wife’s shadow, a strand of someone’s hair floating by, and then, without due notice, a rush of bubbles from my nostrils. They gathered and hurried to the surface, clouding my sight. Breathless, I came up, still exhaling. At the exact same time, my wife emerged, fidgeting like awakening from a nightmare, and blowing water from her nostrils. ‘It got into my nose,’ she stammered. For a moment, I felt proud that I achieved in my very first attempt, and then a mix of pity and guilt sunk in.

Throughout that day’s training, I kept burping.

A life lesson

After we had mastered the art of bubbling, we were promoted to the second level. The objective was to lie on our chests with faces submerged and float on the surface of the water like a dead plank.

I stretched my legs behind me and dunked my head in with my lungs full. Like a full balloon forcefully immersed in water, my body lifted. I couldn’t stop it. Back in school, I had fantasized walking on the moon. Probably this was how it would feel up there. However, my heels did not push out of the water like my wife’s did. My feet were still underneath, arching my body so unglamorously.

By this time, I had befriended water. I was no more frightened. Breathless sometimes, but not afraid. This allowed me to break out of self-consciousness and observe my body objectively. My arms were tightened and my shoulders were constricted, I realized.

So I loosened my arms and legs and stretched them more. It wasn’t meant as a corrective action. I noticed I was tense, so I loosened up. My heels wonderfully came up now. If a passenger in a passing aircraft looked outside her window, she would have thought of me as a floating dead body – such a perfect pose!

Ayyappan Ramachandran learning to loosened his arms
Loosened My Arms

After coming out of the pool, my wife and I discussed how instinctive it was for our bodies to tighten up and become defensive in an unknown environment, like a tortoise curling itself under its shell. But once we trusted the waters, lost control and gave in to it, we were able to work with it harmoniously. This surprising bit of wisdom seemed to apply equally on land. Once we stopped controlling things outside ourselves, work and personal life felt lighter.

The next morning, I went back in feeling proud and confident from the previous day’s joy of understanding a little of life. We were promoted to the next level: Kicking. I thought I was going to swim like a fish, but at the end of the class, I was still beating the waters pathetically. So much for starting the day with a heavy head.

So far our class had been easy on our bodies, but today, after a full hour of kicking a pool of water, we felt drained and lifeless. It was a surprise that we reached home in one piece. Once in, we had to drag ourselves on the stairs to our room. Our calf muscles had turned into cold marbles.

We slept for the most part of the day.

Leaving behind wakes of water

After we learnt to float ourselves and kick the waters, the coach encouraged us to travel the width of the pool using only our legs to propel us, with our hands stretched ahead playing dummy.

To our surprise, we were moving. Feet by feet, we could see the tiles pass under us. And then came the series of silver drains which signalled the halfway mark. I felt like an Olympian reaching for his world record. And then, it went out. My breath. I raised my head to take a quick puff. Like a seesaw, my legs drowned and hit rock bottom.

The next couple of days were devoted to getting this right. As we kept sinking midway, our hearts went down too. It felt more and more discouraging to continue this exercise. At such times, we would see some of our co-learners who enrolled with us struggling with bubbling or floating, and this would enliven us; surely sinful, but genuinely human.

When we began to do better but felt bored to pursue further, we were taught to paddle ourselves with our hands. Contrary to our (convenient) imagination, it was incredibly hard to pull our hands through water. It felt like we were expected to churn the ocean.

Thankfully, our coach was more persistent than us. At the end of that class, we could throw our hands, catch the water, pull through it expertly and withdraw – wow – but during this our legs stopped kicking, the breath went out and water flooded our mouths when we tried to gasp. Playing one part of the body was easy, but orchestrating all the parts was incredibly hard.

In a few days, we were creating symphonies. Our legs could keep kicking like piano keys under the fingers of an uncontrollable musician, and we could breathe on our side so casually, all while locomoting with our hands.

From dead planks, we had turned into paddle boats, leaving behind smooth wakes of water whenever we sailed.

Big fishes

Our coach banished us to the deepest end of the pool and ordered us never to come back to the shallow side again. We obeyed, but not with a full heart. We were nervous as we could barely stand there. Once again, our limbs tightened and we got overprotective about ourselves. However, within a few strokes, we found our footing. And that is where we graduated.

The side of the pool that was most terrifying 20 days back had become a play area for us. We attempted unorthodox swimming techniques behind our coach’s back, braved the backstroke, only to topple head first, floated like carefree water buffaloes, and stopped in our tracks whenever we wished, even if it was mid-way; all without a droplet of fear in our hearts.

We had made the water our second home. For a few days after our coaching got over, land was not very comfortable to our being. We floated in our dreams as well as in our wakeful state. Our limbs ached to get into the pool. Our hearts flapped about to be in water. Learning to swim had opened up a new world for us – a world of possibilities and a new state of existence. Our relationship with water, in whatever form, had changed forever.

Ayyappan Ramachandran


Ayyappan Ramachandran is an India-based storyteller and runs the brand storytelling company Tellable

No comments:

Post a Comment