August 31, 2020

Into The Blue by Avantika Rungta

It is said that being fearless is not the absence of fear, but rather being brave enough to act in spite of it.

I live with a voracious appetite to experience the world. But when 72% of the world is water and I show up with my fear of fish, I realize I hold myself back from experiencing a majority of it.

Diving started out as an experiment to see what I was made of and it quickly gifted me something that has become one of the most therapeutic and present things I can do for myself. 

As a yogini, being present is a philosophy that should be easy to imbibe, but I struggle to be honest to that feeling daily. However, when I dive, time tends to slip away and all I can hear is the sound of the ocean and sense the clarity in my mind.

In Mykonos, as I was getting certified for my Advanced Diver in the ice-cold Aegean Sea, I witnessed an ocean bed full of seaweed and plastic caught up in it. Coming back with a jacket full of crushed plastic bottles left an indelible impression on me and I wanted to do more to conserve our beautiful Gaia. I’d learnt that reefs support 25% of marine life while only occupying 0.1% of the ocean area and are crucial to our ecosystem.

Reefwatch’s holistic approach to teaching reef conservation in partnership with Lacadives in remote Chidiyatapu, Andamans, proved to be a perfect fit.

Flying into Port Blair and witnessing the azure sea melting into the horizon was a sight to behold. I knew I was in for something different; I just didn’t know then how special it would be.

The ACE (Andaman Coral Ecologist) Diver Program taught me to identify different fish, crustaceans and corals. It forced me to really look at the reef and the symbiosis that exists within it. I observed different levels of feeders and learnt to partake in the ocean dance.

In my prior dives, I had never dared to go so close to the reefs, partially because I was still perfecting my buoyancy but primarily because of my fear of fish. But with the help of Vivek, my divemaster, I was able to overcome this and deepen my love for and connection to the ocean.

There’s a quote in the movie Life of Pi that is one of my guiding philosophies –  “All of life is an act of letting go” and I believe there is magic to be found whenever we reach a place of surrender. It was only when I truly surrendered to my fear and accepted all that it was invoking in me, that I was able to push past it and be one with my surrounding.

Speaking of the movie Life of Pi, it was where I learnt of the existence of bioluminescent plankton. It looked like something out of a fairytale and I didn’t think I’d get lucky enough to see it. But the team at Lacadives made even this fantasy come true.

The crew had a small group heading out on a night dive and made room for me on the boat. Thanks to them, I not only got a front-row seat to a magnificent salmon-hued sunset, but I also got to become mentally comfortable with the idea of a night dive. While I’m not ready to try night diving quite yet, it has been immensely helpful to see and hear the experience of my fellow divers first hand.

There is something heartwarming about the dive community and I didn’t understand this till I immersed myself in it completely for a week at Chidiyatapu.

Divers are like family, they take care of their own. I guess that tenet is built into the very idea of diving – always go dive with a “buddy”. I spent a week surrounded by a crew that went above and beyond every guideline of safety and hospitality and left the Andaman’s with many new friends.

I envy the calm they embody and the simplicity of their life. I didn’t realize how disconnected this place was going to be till I got there and in many ways that dissonance was just the lesson I needed to pause and reflect.

From Titiksh’s tattoos and buoyancy lessons, Dev’s dry sense of humour, Vivek’s rocking serenades, yoga and soul talk with Tara, stealing Rosh’s shorts, Bo’s delicious coffee/tea at the end of a long dive (the recipe which he WILL NOT disclose) to sunsets that left me speechless…there are so many memories I hold dear and hope to relive soon.

Thank you for making it one of the books Reefwatch and Lacadives and for giving a gal something so beautiful. This is Avantika @thebrocadesutra signing off, until the blue calls again.