I feel I’m finally ready to narrate the experience which will be the highlight of my annual out-of-country vacation.
The immediate action might have been majorly inspired by the commercial blockbuster, but I’ve always been deeply passionate about the ocean and watched countless documentaries and been in awe of those who were able to muster their courage and take the step.
Despite the innumerable constraints that Muscat poses, I was determined to brave the big blue and my unnerving galeophobia to prove to myself that indeed, darr ke aage jeet hai; In my case, jeet = renewed confidence.
Having done most of my research while seated at my mundane chair at work, I figured that apart from diving just for fun, people with real passion would sign up for a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) course and get certified to dive anywhere in the world without supervision. Although it did take a lot of convincing as Baba thought this as a weak addition to the resume and pastime of the affluent; but I managed to fight through it and last week, began with the PADI Open Water Diver course with Euro Divers Oman.
# Day 1
– More than three hours of theory
– Swim test
Please note that a non-swimmer cannot be a scuba diver. The movies feed you nonsense! Also, mind you, this wasnt just any swim test. Six 200 metre laps in the ocean to understand whether you and the sea are friendly. I hadnt been swimming for over an year and by the time I was done with the second lap, I felt as though the course was a huge mistake (There were several more instances across the next few days where I have felt the inclination towards the aforementioned). With some self motivation and shouts of enouragement from Karin, the Dive Centre Manager, I swam the stretch six times over and did not feel my limbs anymore.
# Day 2
– One hour of theory and written tests
– Confined water dives (3)
– Session on understanding and using the Recreational Dive Planner
– Confined water dives (2)
The second day, I stepped into the Dive Centre to meet a very tall, caucasian gentleman sweeping the floor of the cabin. Karin had asked me to expect Martin Van Druten, my dive instructor and in more common diving lingo, my ‘Buddy’. Funnily enough, it turned out to be him and post a very brief pleasantary exchange we began with the second most important thing to a diver, the equipment. Step by step the gear was put together, Martin explaining the utilities and choosing stuff to fit me – once I was loaded with the BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), the O-Tank, Regulators, Wet Suit, Fins, Weight belt and Eye Mask, Im sure I was looking quite like the jehadi wearing a self explosive ammo suit. Then it was to the water. I hardly think it would be possible to explain the feeling – floating in the sea, wearing more than twelve kilos in weights and strapped to a compressed oxygen cylinder. Also expected to breathe only from one’s mouth. I soon found myself being lowered into the sea and understand that I could only use my mouth to breathe, something I’m not in the habit of doing, bringing us to panic situation number 1. I breathed in a lot of salt water through my nose and felt it in my throat, hence couldnt breathe in air any more. Consequentially, I spat out my regulator (Note: The regulator is one’s only air source underwater) and ascended rapidly holding my breath. Almost all of the above are absolute diver sins. Martin, however was very patient and explained the whole process all over and asked me to signal whenever I was ready for the next dive. Only thought going through my head was why on earth did I volunteer for this. In around ten minutes, I thought I would give this another shot before I officially gave up so I donned the whole gas mask look and dunked my head into the water. This time around, I concentrated on the breathing and in a while, I felt rather comfortable and demonstrated so by the appropriate hand action. From then on, the confined water dives were quite easy and I didnt realise how time flew by while Martin had me do a variety of skills underwater (Read: Taking goggles off underwater – clearing water – and re-wearing, removing regulator – repositioning, taking entire equipment off underwater and re-wearing among several others) Punctuated with a mini-break of surface time taken to explain the RDP, we were done for the day.
# Day 3
– Open Water Dives (4)
– Final Examination
– Certification Formalities
The compressed air is supposed to contain 79% Nitrogen which has different effects on divers. I guess mine was anxiety and slightly accentuated fear. I spent of the evening and morning thinking of all the shark attack movies I had watched till date and wondering whether the certification was worth it. However, once I got to the dive centre, things happened so quickly that I hardly had time to think – all equipment had to be packed and moved into the van which would take us to the boat which in turn would transport us to deeper oceanic areas (And not shark infested wrecks,or so I prayed). The mind felt numb with a mixture of emotions but strangely I did not utter a word. Slowly, nearing the Barr Al Jissah resort, the boat slowed down and Martin demonstrated the various ways of exiting the vessel and as I had feared, the method I was supposed to take was to sit on the edge and then deftly tumble over. I did, however muster all my courage and with little words of encouragement from the boat captain, Omar, I tumbled over. Voila! I was in open water, a deep green and rather cold. I didnt feel afraid and after a few skills near the surface, I let out air from the BCD and felt mself descending into the colder, darker waters. After a little while, Martin signalled to follow him and so I did. Slowly, the fear seemed to go away, especially when I found myself gliding a few inched above the sead bed and little schools of fishes doing their daily chores. I even forgot to emphasise on breathing – it happened on its own. Three more dives followed, two in the Qantab reef and one at Jussa point- and I was done!
The boat ride back to the dive centre was a different feeling altogether. There was fresh ocean spray and I was glad to be able to see the Sun and feel its warmth. A multitude of thoughts crossed my mind, the most important of which was that I am often too afraid to do things that challenge me. I resist change of any kind, in fear of what unprecedence might bring. More often than should be allowed, I let people take decisions on my behalf. Although none of these have any direct relationship with the diving or why I decided to do it in the first place, the OWD gave me a sense of liberation. No, I am not a changed person after the dives, nor have I discovered the key to happiness. But I want to believe that no matter how intense the situation, it takes only a little courage to hold on and before you know it, you will emerge stronger and much more confident.
So, when I look at my PADI certification and think of the various colours of blue, I feel a distant serenity. I know that this has done me good.