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Playing with water

When will we pay attention to warnings, learn from the tragedies of the past, and tread with care around water?

Gulf News

Somehow, just like we Indians love to walk along train tracks while listening to music or taking selfies, we also seem to have a penchant for picnics at the seaside or near lakes and rivers and dams. What’s more, we also like to take a dip in those waters — whether or not we are able to swim.

Every so often we read about a tragedy in the water. Swimmers misjudge the current, non-swimmers go into deep waters, there’s an undercurrent or a sudden rip tide … and precious lives are lost, as they were in Sindhudurg a few days ago.

We seem to forget just how powerful and dangerous water can be. Maybe we need a few expressions in the English language to make us aware of this: perhaps something on the lines of “playing with fire” would make us stop and think before rushing into what appears as invitingly cool waters.

We were pretty young when we were warned off picnics beside lakes and rivers and ponds. Mother would tell us tales from her childhood and one that stood out in our minds was that of a school outing to a lakeside in the Hubbali-Dharwad area. There was no swimming and no boating that day, but still, when the picnickers got into the bus to return, one child was missing. He had probably ventured into the lake and gone down unnoticed amid all the noise and laughter. For those of us who grew up on this story, swimming thereafter always involved a paved pool with a lifeguard somewhere on hand — although that was no guarantee of safety and we had close experiences of tragedies there, too. As for the untested waters of a lake or a river or the mighty ocean, there was no way we were going to plunge in there …

Concern for child

It’s true that I did dip my feet — just my feet — into the point where I believed the waters of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea mingle at Kanyakumari; I paddled up to my ankles in the clear blue-green waters of the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, the foaming South China Sea and the calm Pacific Ocean … but if the incoming waves splashed beyond mid-calf, I was out in a jiffy onto dry sand — even if all around me there were surfers, swimmers and even toddlers learning their first strokes.

When our son was young, he would not get permission to go on school picnics if there was water anywhere nearby. Gardens and parks and zoos were fine, but anywhere with even a couple of inches of water was off limits as far as I was concerned.

Soon, of course, control went out of my hands and the adult “child” pooh-poohed my fears, went backwards into the ocean and let the waves toss him about while I screamed in panic and called out threats and pleas and a whole lot of other things that were ignored and had no effect at all.

Would that the words of my grandfather, snapped out in the good old style of three-quarters of a century ago, worked today: “If you drown and come back, you see what I’ll do to you!” Grandfather would say, probably promising a “pasting” and a “hammering”, threats that certainly couldn’t have been carried out if one was already drowned! Grandfather may have been laughed at by his children, but I suspect they were rather open to admonitions that made no sense and only conveyed the concern a parent felt, because they respected the power of water and were careful around it.

When will the rest of us pay attention to such warnings (however contrary they sound), learn from the tragedies of the past, and tread with care around water?

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in Hyderabad, India.