I was mortally afraid of water as a child. I grew up in India and crossed numerous rivers in rickety steamers and puny, undulating boats. I heard cruel stories of helpless men and women gobbled up by giant waves. Water represented something immense and implacable, a merciless monster.
My father sensed this and wanted me to learn swimming. I might have resisted, but some of my friends were learning too and I could not demur without embarrassment. Father had grown up in a village and had learned to swim early. Without a proper trainer, he had acquired an awkward style of swimming, but he could swim a fair distance. Still he was wise enough not to try teaching me himself and appointed an experienced trainer to instruct me.
It took a lot of persuasion to get me into water. Once in, though, I wanted to do better than others, and started practicing my lessons diligently. Soon I was off in the pool, doing short distances and then longer stretches. I imitated a champion swimmer who had a showy style of stroking and soon attracted a few kudos myself. I started to like swimming.
As I kept swimming, my attitude to water itself changed imperceptibly. Curiously, from an adversary I began to think of the water as my friend. It hugged and caressed; it wanted me to float. Getting into the pool was like being with a pal, who was waiting to receive me with open arms and play with me. I went to a newly acquired friend’s place for dinner and was thrilled to discover the family had a backyard pool.
Though I had neither a swimming costume nor an extra set of clothes, I just could not resist the invitation of the blue water in the pool and dived in. My friend’s parents, unable to stand the sight of me in wet clothes, eventually made me wear his clothes for dinner.
Years later I was in Hong Kong with a charming friend and we took a steamer ride around the bay in a delectable wine and Dim Sum tour. At the end of the meal, we walked to the rear of the deck and she pointed to the wake with her goblet and said something about the glorious sunset.
Indeed, it was a beautiful sunset, but I confess I did not hear her, for I was distracted. I was watching the gushing, frothing water and thinking: You frightened me once, but I know now you are a friend and we can be content together.
The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected]