Diving into murky waters

Diving into murky waters


These were just some of the reactions I got when I announced that I was joining the ladies batch at a public pool in the city. The words have become associated with a nether world that no one in their right minds would care to visit in today’s gym-savvy, club house-going world. I have to admit the images that came to my mind were far from comforting. Childhood experience of public pools has taught me not to expect anything more than slimy tiles, murky gutters and the occasional deceased dragonfly or frog floating as a constant companion in the water. However, the current economic downturn as well as the prohibitively priced ‘life memberships’ at gyms, forced me to look at swimming at a public pool as a cost-effective fitness regime.

After all, how bad can it be, I asked myself.  For moral support, I roped in a close friend and former state-level swimmer who had absolutely no problem with the idea of a public pool. She even went on to recollect all her fond memories of winning competitions at this 50-meter, eight-lane beauty. “Once you get in the water, everything will be fine,” she assured me.

D-Day and we queue up at the ticket counter. I look at the sign for the ticket price and I’m filled with a warm glow. Adults — Rs 16. Sweet 16. I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. Inside the shower rooms, as I dodge the cloud of mosquitoes swarming overhead, I take a look around at my fellow swimmers. It’s a mixed crowd. ‘Aunties’, an expatriate, a few corporate types, blue-collar types, students and primary school girls. We all giggle excitedly and take our tentative first steps into the water. My friend is spot on. Once I hit the cool, chlorinated blue, all doubts of using a public pool leave me and I’m filled with just one realisation. I really can’t swim that well. I look around and admire the experts. A few stereotypes are shattered as well. My friend points out a few aunties who were in traditional sarees minutes ago. One of them is a butterfly stroke expert and skims across the water effortlessly.

I eavesdrop on conversations and learn that swimming is a common bond for so many Bangalorean women, regardless of age, background and occupation. As my eyes stray away from the pool, I notice a young man seated on a motor bike, aiming his camera phone in our direction. Horrified, my friend and I alert the coach, who ambles up to the Peeping Tom and after chatting to him lazily, ambles back to his perch. The Peeping Tom has now disappeared into the manager’s room.
I hope to at least raise the issue with our fellow women. A well nourished lass in a cherry red suit approaches — “Yeenu aunty?” she asks. I tell her about the peeping Tom. “Oh, I thought you were calling me,” she says and paddles off. The complacency of the ladies batch amazes me. However, my indignation melts away as I realise that the joy of swimming far outweighs these minor flaws. In fact, I’m filled with an odd sense of camaraderie that is hard to describe.

Swimming at a public pool is also starting to fill me with a sense of nostalgia. It reminds me of an age when India had just one pool for everyone. One television  channel for everyone. One market for everyone. Now as I immerse myself in the water, I feel like I’m immersing myself in a common identity that I lose every time I enter a mall, multiplex or lifestyle boutique. On our way out, my friend and I notice a group of auto drivers ready with bars of soap and towels waiting for the next batch to commence. And we’re still going back next week.  

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