Port Blair and Havelock - Soaked to the bones and loving it

Work keeps me rooted in Hyderabad (with an occasional exception) and it has taken the better part of a year to get used to it. It has its pluses but I do miss venturing out and being refreshed by interactions with people outside of work.

A team meet at port blair, was a welcome idea but one that I didn’t have much time to dwell on. Before  I could think of preparing for the trip I found myself on Chennai bound flight!  However, finally Andamans it was and I went sans expectations, aware that it would pour through the days and prepared to break loose, despite it.

I didn’t know what to make of Port Blair. I asked our cab driver what language is used and pat came the response “Hindi”! That was my first googly, being so far of south I seemed to have sub consciously expected something different. Then I heard snatches of what sounded like Oriya and Bengali and also met a boy called Puia - I assumed he was Mizo by his name and looks but was surprisingly told that he was from Port Blair. Another baffling moment  was finding more spotted deer than people on Ross Island (!?), stumped for a bit and I then recalled some discussions with Nimesh on this.

Havelock was beautiful, and it reminded me a lot of Kerela. On reaching the beach, I found myself stuffing my camera and wallet into the bag. Leaving it on the shore and heading off to the water. My usual paranoid self was nowhere on the scene and nether was my resolve to try and re connect with the camera on this trip. One sighting of the waves and all other thoughts were washed away!  Watched colleagues dive into the waves joyously, in an absolute celebratory mode and wondered about what dotted lines connected our lot. I didn't find any answers. But the questions, the waves and the company kept me in an upward spiralling high.

Scuba diving, snorkelling, was all talked about prior to the trip but again in all the happy chaos in my mind it failed to register. It is not something I thought about much. One eve, a team meet was interrupted by our trip coordinator – he wanted a show of hands for scuba – both arms shot up before I could straighten out the thoughts in my head. My  query was whether they had suits in all sizes and if we could go under twice?

Next afternoon 7 of us split from the rest of the group and headed to Ocean Tribe for some scuba . We were given some forms to fill up and sign; handed over suits and eventually led to the boat.  Once in the water, our instructors took us through hand gestures and some solutions to minor problems we may face . Our first practice dip had me signalling to him wildly - wanting to rush up for air – he responded in a nano second and won me over for the rest of the hour. Didn't need to come up again till it was time to do so.

As we moved deeper and watched the fish, the occasional coral ,I realised that I could barely see the instructor.  He was behind me all the time and  his hand signals every couple of minutes were very reassuring. At one point of time I fancied that water got into my glasses and  tried to get it out while messing up something in the process – some idiotic suicidal impulse had me yank the mouth piece off. I saw terror in the instructor's goggle encased eyes as I tried to chew on the mouth piece! Few seconds of  panic and all was well - we moved along smoothly.

The sea - just 10 metres below the surface seems like a fictional space. Something life as I know it seems to have no similarity with. There are fish the colour of peacocks. Watching over a hundred of them swim past my head felt surreal. Right in front of me but so distant.
What unlearning that one hour called for is crazy.  Your nostrils are closed and you breathe through the mouth, drawing air from a pipe. Can't talk - can't move of your own accord. Its probably like the first hour of vipassana - only more other worldly.  Was so powerless. Yet ……tranquil and glad. 

In all of this my mind kept wandering to the instructor whose name I had no idea of, he probably accompanies many first time divers (something about his demeanour inspires faith) , but for each first time diver it must be such a unique and intimate relationship they share with him for that hour…..
Back on the surface something like asking him for his name felt superfluous and I resisted.

Early next morn at the ungodly hour of 4 and amidst a downpour I was up for a last dip in the beach. A colleague texted his worry because of the rains but not going didn’t seem like an option for me. A handful of fishermen were the only ones around as we walked across the beach to the rocks. Spent a while watching them throw their nets and bring in what I thought were sardines. We moved on to sit in a waist deep pool of water between the rocks.  Soon the waves had us clinging onto the rocks for our dear lives, and we hurriedly tried to come up with an exit strategy. The struggle to get away from the rocks as the tide rose has printed itself on my memory. One of the local’s gave us some directions, a helping hand and a watchful eye and we were soon ashore, but not without our share of cuts and bruises. While walking back we realised that the beach we had walked on while getting to the  rocks had \ disappeared. We had to take the road with the waves crashing against it.

 The nights and days were full of torrential rain which carried on through the morning. Between team meetings we’d snatch a dip and I felt like I was forever getting into or out of some clothes. But the luxury of getting soaked to the bones in the unrelenting rain, walking around having happy conversations with myself,   listening to the frogs as we all sat around talking - spelt a great time to me. 

I seem to have reconnected with the impulsive and sprightly part of me which was slowly moving into a coma behind a desk. It has been a revival and I'm thankful for the unending rains. Another monsoon trip to the island is more than welcome. Is Nimesh listening?!! :) 

Thanks Govind for the panoramic shots of the the jail and the beach and for being braver with your camera than I was with mine!