Here's a story from my old book "The Remix of Orchid" I thought to share with my blog readers. There're requests from friends to get a copy of that book, but unfortunately I've none to spare. Well, this is the best I can do for the present to comply such request--by publishing some stories on my blog. I'd shared another story from the same book in this blog. Thank you and happy reading.
The Millennium Blog
It pains me to reflect
that such a hard-earned experience of mine fails to command the belief of my
audience. I have no photograph to substantiate my version since I am not an
underwater photographer. My only witness is Kelly, the professional diver from Denmark, with whom I was paired to dive at Barracuda City
off Havelock Island. She lives in her country, just
one e-mail away, and I am sure if I ask her, she will definitely stand up for
me. It will entail a little expense, say for an overseas call or for a video
conference; but then is there any guarantee that, after all the travails,
people will start believing my version? Most probably not. They think all
divers are alike, and even more so if one is testifying for his or her buddy.
They are prone to this excusably little vice of their own called bragging.
Now I am at my wits’
end; I have nothing else to offer in support of my credibility except my
recollections. Aha! I can do something about it, something really interesting.
I am going to blog down everything that happened to me on that momentous day.
All for my fellow netizens. Let the surface-bound people read it as a short
story or reject it as a big brag—I do not bother.
It was December 31,
1999. The world was waiting with terrifying jitters to see what kind of a
digital catastrophe the new millennium would bring with it in the shape of Y2K
bug. But I had no concern about that lousy hoax. I was, on the other hand,
stirred by an overwhelming desire to spend time underwater when the clock struck
midnight and the civilisation of Homo sapiens stepped into the new
millennium, the twenty-first century. I had reached Havelock a day before, just to fix everything
in advance and make my wish a reality. Reaching there, I discovered some kind
of a minor gap in communication, and all those who had reconfirmed their
schedules had long since been paired. I was the only diver spare. In that case,
I was sure to be sent as the third partner with any of the already formed
diving duos, and, going by whatever experience I had at my command as a
recreational diver, I was anticipating a dull type of profile ahead.
However, the matter settled when Kelly
arrived precisely on the thirty-first. I was inevitably paired with her. Don’t
they say he who laughs the last laughs the best?
Kelly was indeed a very
nice girl to dive with. She was beautiful and she knew her trade well. In fact,
she was on a first track and she expected to reach her professional grade in a
matter of another two years or so. She had already secured her Advanced Open
Water certification and accomplished cool 35 to 40 dives at various sites, all
at depths well in excess of 100 feet. She had already collected a respectable
collection of artifacts from a wreck site and had made a small fortune out of
that. She had met hammerhead sharks, barracudas a couple of occasions during her
dives. Apart from the traditional gears, she had gained proficiency in using
close-circuit regulators, high-end electronically controlled rebreathers as
well as various types of dive computers. She possessed a slim diver’s body and
exuded confidence that made me comfortable with her in matter of minutes.
Compared to Kelly, I
was only a recreational diver, though, as I ascertained from her, I had entered
the field at least three years earlier than she had done. I also had got my certification
of open water diving, but did not sincerely pursue it to upgrade my skill. To
be frank, I had not tried any diving for the last two years in a row and was
little apprehensive about going straight away for a prodigiously challenging
profile. My familiarity with scuba-gears was only functional. I was comfortable
with both wetsuit and their dry versions, understood both the cardinal and
numerical indications in a diver’s compass, had no difficulty in operating both
back-buoyancy and wing-style buoyancy controls, and could handle with ease
almost all nitrox-compatible gears. But when it came to sophisticated high-end
electronically controlled sensors and monitors or their elaborate warning
systems, I honestly drew blank. Otherwise, I was strong on my fundamentals, and
never allowed complacency or anxiety to rule me in my dives.
Kelly liked my
confidence; she had her way to find out that. Even she had a few words of
appreciation for the kind of surface-bound practice I was going through.
‘I know it works, Mr. Falkon. Nowadays very few divers
practise that way though,’ Kelly had initial difficulty in pronouncing my name,
Falguni, and settled for a convenient nickname for me. I liked the name and had
none to object.
‘Well, you may
join me in the practice if you’ve finished checking your gears.’ It was my idea
to spend an hour or so with Kelly acquainting myself with her style of
Kelly was somewhat
delayed and I went ahead with what I was doing. For the whole of the forenoon,
I was simply refreshing my skill. I walked around the open field near our camp
while looking mostly at my compass. It was an exercise that would have looked
funny to others, but as a routine it was perfectly normal. It built up my
confidence and I was able to reach my starting point, just by following the
By then Kelly had
joined. I talked to her at length how we should be making our night dive smooth
and enjoyable. Safe and flawless. We agreed to check our gauge at twenty feet,
take a compass course depending on the dive master’s briefing and try to
maintain a maximum gap of ten to fifteen feet for the sake of effecting better
communication. It was only at that point I came to know that the particular
diving-site was called as Barracuda
City just like that, and
it was more famous for hard corals and reef fishes and turtles than for great
barracudas. It was only a matter of fluke that one would come across a school
of barracudas. Finally we agreed that there was still a chance, as the dive
would continue at night and barracudas are the nocturnal fish-eaters.
Our first dive started
at two o’ clock in the afternoon. Well, to start with a day dive was exactly what
I needed, for I was a diver who was pathetically out of touch. This time the
site was Light House. Kelly was first to don her gear and plunge, and I was a
minute late, but as per our dive planning, we met at a depth of twenty feet and
checked each other’s gear and gauge. The visibility was extremely good, the
water was warm, say in the range of eighty degree Fahrenheit plus, and it
promised to be a very enjoyable dive in every sense of the term. The corals
were bewitching as usual; but I found something positively special this time in
their colourful varieties and their eye-catching contrast. Fishes were
everywhere; we saw clown fish, angelfish, parrotfish, squirrelfish, batfish,
starfish, sea cucumbers and many others that I could not readily identify. We
were so mesmerised that both of us forgot to take a sketch on our underwater
notepad when we came across a kind of out-of-this-world fish, say a rainbow
Our appetite was
literally whetted. We wanted to see something special, experience something
unprecedented and started to demand more and more from the sea at that depth.
Precisely, we felt that we were missing on pelagians and wished some of them
would appear by a fluke.
And a wish at that
depth was not to go futile! We could not believe our eyes; there were two
majestic manta rays at a short distance. Honestly, Kelly was the first to sight
them and she was soon to signal me towards them. I was simply flabbergasted at
the sight. I saw a few sucking fish stuck on their pectoral fins and the
mammoth creatures were cool and unperturbed. We looked at each other and then
Kelly signalled okay by raising her thumb. I reciprocated. Then the mantas came
very close and it was almost irresistible to consider swimming with them in
parallel. We did that. After swimming a distance of fifty feet or so, we
thought not to take further risk by what appeared to us a blind chase. I
suggested Kelly a stop and she agreed to it readily.
But better moments were
in store for us. In a matter of couple of minutes, one of the manta duo came
back and passed over Kelly. I saw her stroking the bottom of the over-12-foot
long enormous pelagian, her gloves removed. The other followed it, but this
time over my head. I just went on imitating Kelly. We were careful not to touch
their tails or wing tips and tickle them to fright. And soon we were accepted
as friends by those two devils (there was nothing devilish about them except
their pairs of forward-pointing lobes on either side of their heads; they
merely feed on planktons!). Lo and behold, they began to follow us, dancing on
their way in their jovial-most twists and rhythms. The thought of riding mantas
flashed across our mind, but it would have disturbed the rapport that we
established so easily with the pelagic duo. Besides, we feared the behemoths
would thrash their wings out of panic and harm us. Hence, we remained content
enjoying our acceptability; we thought we were the unoffending parts of the
When we realised that
we were overstaying, we had long started getting low on air. It was well below
the one-third mark. The safe limit should have been to spend altogether
one-third for diving both ways and another third at the bottom, and that would
have left us with one-third to meet the unforeseen contingencies. Moreover,
following principles of safe diving, we were to make our slow ascent and a
compulsory halt at fifteen feet depth for decompression. Quickly we began preparing
our ascent back to the boat. So understood our friendly mantas, perhaps. We
simultaneously bade goodbye to each other—mantas turned and reverted to their
course and we, the two satisfied souls, took our slow ascent.
On the surface we
became garrulous. We had so much to share, and we hoped that ours would be the
most interesting report of all. It actually happened that way. Except that a
pair had sighted a turtle from a distance, none had anything more than corals
and fishes to report. Making due allowance to their narrative skills, most of
them were interesting only to themselves; they all faded before ours, for we
had literally ridden manta rays!
We were eagerly
expecting more in our night dive. That was my principal schedule. But as a dive
schedule, it was not a sought-after one and we were soon to realise this,
finding just one more pair ready for it. Kelly wondered if there were any
special reasons for that and I reminded her about the date of the year. That
the night was a special one and that the time was just appropriate to stay
surface-bound and close to aqua vitae were my hints. Wine being thicker than
brine, who could have elected to do otherwise for the night? But one thing was
sure: we were mighty determined to make it. For we were divers at heart!
The ultimate evening of
the outgoing millennium languorously approached the island of solitude. Soon it
was dark and we realised that we were only a few hours from our cherished
nocturnal jaunt. In due course our boat took us to the site at about
quarter-past-eleven and anchored there with its lights on. The sea was choppy,
but it was not rough. The water was a bit colder than it was during the day,
but it was not chilly—maybe 78 degree Fahrenheit or so. I was in doubt as to if
we would get a glimpse of something different and memorable. My query provoked
Kelly into a quick one-liner: ‘At sea one can be sure of one thing—that is salt
water, and anything more than that may come as a bonus.’ I understood the
spirit; she urged me to be optimistic and I tried to summon every bit of
sangfroid in me for the occasion.
We donned our gears
quickly and took our plunge. We were silent and overly expectant. Our excitement
slowly gave way to some kind of quiet contentment. As we descended underwater,
everything appeared dark, and it was literally a tall order to expect our dive
lights to vividly illuminate the surroundings. They were doing a good job by
emitting a few bold beams alright, but there was nothing they could reflect. By
and by we reached a depth of sixty feet. Slowly the corals became visible,
offering us a view of their hidden magnificence, their fuzzy texture, and their
life-activities in action. The reef came closer into the flashing range of our
dive lights as we went slowly down the depth. The red spots that appeared from
a distance became increasingly clearer; we could see the dazzling eyes of
shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans. I spotted a whole lot of parrotfish that
had chosen to snooze inside their mucous cocoons and steered clear of them. I
knew if I disturbed them they would come out of their cocoons and would not be
able to build new ones during the rest of the night. They would fall prey to
their predators, almost defenceless.
Kelly spotted another
reef nearby and gave a rapid side-to-side torch signal implying her proposal to
go over there. Before I could consider her proposal, I spotted a protruding
hard coral rock that she was about to crash. I cautioned her and she managed to
avoid that by her reflex. Then as per her idea, we swam to the nearby reef
further fifteen feet below. While viewing the nocturnal grandeur underwater
with our intense concentration, we progressed very slowly and unobtrusively.
At a distance of less
than twenty feet from me, I found something shinning. As I went a bit closer—or
maybe as the object came a bit closer—I realised that the one I was going to
face was a formidable fish. I found its eyes inquisitive, its body slender, and
its snout long and projected. Its majestic upper body had blue-grey dark bars,
and its tail was wide and ‘V’-shaped. I could see its flat razor-sharp teeth,
especially the long ones in the rows right under the nose, shinning ferociously
and sending shudders into my heart. The six-foot long aggressive predator was
swaggering and giving a villainous look. I began to feel disorientated.
It was about the time
Kelly spotted the fish too. In fact she spotted a school of them, swarming at a
distance with full force and zest. She knew she was before a school of great
barracudas, even bigger than the ones she had seen in her earlier dives. But
this was a night dive and at a depth of seventy-five feet, and it was the time
for those famished nocturnal creatures to stalk around and fill their tummy.
They were ready for the job, their snaggle-teeth were pointed and itching, and
if all the parrotfish had cleverly hid themselves inside their nightly cocoons,
then the barracudas were not to remain hungry all night. They might justifiably
attack us, the adventurous duo underwater.
Kelly gave a hand
signal flashing her torch onto her hand. I understood it—she had sensed the
danger and suggested that we should retract. I confirmed the signal by agreeing
to her proposed move. In the meantime we saw the barracudas rushing towards us.
I realised the reason; we were holding a gleaming object and barracudas strike
anything that gleams. I put the torch against my body to hide the source of
light so as to reduce our chance of getting chased. I was not for turning it
out because I feared its bulb might blow out when I turned it on again. But the
tips of caution did not occur to my buddy. She was perhaps for a quick action then—or
maybe for a too quick reaction—and she just turned her torch out. Then when she
sussed her mistake, she tried to turn it on again. But alas, the light was not
same again; it had blown out its bulb. Kelly used her feeble backup torch; but
eventually she came closer to me to share my light. We headed towards our boat
waving a signal to the shoal of fish, something that occurred simultaneously to
both of us: bye…bye…barracuda.
When we were at half
the depth doing our slow ascent of thirty feet per minute, it was still fifteen
minutes to twelve. There we stayed for no longer than one minute. With a drift
of current ominously active, we could not halt there any longer only to be
swept away. Thereafter as we stopped at 15-metre depth, we took our
decompression halt there for two minutes. So the whole of our ascent did not
take more than six minutes. It was still nine minutes to twelve.
And then we were out of
depth. The air, which was for everybody to breathe, came to us. It was stale
and it continued to reek of the old millennium.
My great idea of doing
things my way eventually came to nothing. I had made all the preparations to
achieve that distinction coming to such an out-of-the-way place called Havelock Island. Even there was an invitation
from an enthusiastic nature-lovers’ group to accompany them to Katchal Islands and witness the millennium’s
first sunrise, but I had spurned that. People from all over the world had gone
to that island to spend their New Year’s Day with a difference. If my scheme
had been through, it would have outshone their record in uniqueness and style.
But I could not. And the spoilsports called barracudas were to blame.
But Kelly was happy.
She was happy because she managed to accomplish two solid dives, both of them
memorable for a myriad of reasons. She was happy because she enriched her
experience, diving at some less known yet prodigiously more rewarding diving
sites of the east. She was happy because she managed to come back safe from an
imminently bloody encounter with a school of great barracudas. Finally she was
happy because she had discovered a friendly and understanding buddy in me. Oh
yes, she bestowed her undying gratitude upon me for guiding her back to safety
when her diving torch blew out! She was gracefully generous and I was moved by
her touch and gesture—they were so ardent and so pure! I had unconsciously made
a friendship for a life.
A N Nanda