By Meenakshi Menon
Founder & Chairperson, Spatial Access
I am not a religious person, but every time I sink into the water, I am reminded of God and our tenuous hold on life. Scuba diving has brought me closer to the creator. It is an absolutely incredible experience and one that has me completely addicted. I measure my life between my dives, but how I got there is a long story.
Circa 1984. A young married couple is in the Maldives; he on a shoot, she tagging along. The waters are azure, crystal clear, inviting. The resort offers scuba lessons and she is keen to sign up; but their budget doesn’t permit, neither does his work schedule.
November 2010. I am kitting up under the watchful eye of my dive instructor, Anees Adenwala of Orca Dive Club. We are back in the Maldives. It is my first dive in the open sea. The theory and pool dives are over; the process, the steps, the hardware all diligently studied and revised. The gear strapped on, the regulator in my mouth. I jump into the water only to come up sputtering and coughing. I have not held in the regulator tight enough and it has come out of my mouth. Suddenly it strikes me that I am supposed to be old enough to be sensible and wise.
Here am I in the company of 20-somethings, trying really hard to flood my insides with sea water. Maybe I have a few screws loose. Maybe I should start investigating cosmetic surgery instead of Maldivian waters. My reverie is interrupted by an exasperated Maldivian dive master. Waving his regulator in the air, he yells, “Bite me hard, use your teet”… The entire bunch of baby divers (as newbies are called) is in splits. ‘Use your teet’ becomes a standard admonition for me for the rest of the trip.
May 2012. I have done my advanced open water certification. I no longer have to be told to ‘use my teet’! More than 75 dives, six countries, hundreds of coral formations, thousands of fish later, each time I slip or slide or jump or backflip into the water, it is like finding my religion all over again. Nothing comes close to the awe that you feel when a 15-meter long whale shark gently flips his tail and moves off into the deep while you stare gobsmacked at his size and grace. You have not seen what a father can do until you watch a two-inch clown fish attack a diver to protect his eggs. The Gorgonian Fan corals gently wave in the sea like hair from a mermaid splayed across the sea bed. Manta Rays dance an incredible ballet as they feed on unseen plankton, magical, fluid, like large bits of dark silk floating through the waters. Thermoclines hit you like a ton of ice; cold walls of water right next to warm currents, the shimmer of heat underwater, currents that gently move you along and sometimes batter you senseless. The sea has such an amazing way of sucking you in and holding you back that you have to remind yourself that this is just a visit and that you have to go back on land.
I waited 25 years for my first dive. If you are interested in scuba diving, don’t waste a day. In the last 25 years, man has destroyed large swathes of reefs and oceans. The destruction continues at an alarming pace. Go find your religion before it is too late.