Friday, June 10, 2016

Swimming, Murthi Style

Bhavani River
Photo Courtesy

My father, Anna, loved to swim. Perhaps because he grew up in Kumarapalyam, a town on the shores of the great Bhavani river. The river is revered, yet it was and hopefully still is, a playground for young children like Anna and his brothers. Cheenu (Anna), Padu, and Krishna did not have formal swimming lessons as kids do now-a-days, they taught themselves to float and swim in an open river by just jumping in!

In the late 60s Anna was posted in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad & Tobago, an island in the West Indies. It was an island, and hence Anna thought it was critical that we all learn to swim.

Trinidad District Map
Before Anna let us swim in the open sea, he took us to the pool at the West India Club. My first attempts at swimming consisted of running wildly around the pool and jumping in whenever and wherever I felt like it, to surface a few seconds later, many grams heavier with all the chlorinated water I swallowed. This was followed by the mighty flaying of hands and legs, spluttering all the time, trying to reach and hold on to the edge of the pool. Then pulling myself to the nearest stairs so that I could climb out of the pool, to run around it again and jump in at will!

(c) Phil Shaw
I was often asked if I was scared of drowning.  There was no need for me to say "Yes" or "No" for "Anna will save me!" Of course, there was a life guard, on duty at all times. But as a child, I thought that the life guard's purpose was to help others, not me, for I had my father and he was the person who would always save me.

Soon, Anna realised that it would be better for us to formally learn to swim vs splashing around. My younger sister and I were enrolled in swimming classes at the West India Club. We were taught how to float, how to hold our breath under water, how to paddle, how to swim freestyle and do backstroke. We even got certificates that stated each of these as distinct skills!

It's then that we graduated to the beach. Beautiful Maracas Bay.

Maracas Bay, Trinidad
Swimming in a pool is very different from swimming in the sea. At Maracas Bay, Anna taught us how to wade into the sea, presenting our backs to the waves as they hit us. We learnt how to float on the water beyond the waves. We learnt how to position ourselves so that the farthermost wave could carry us, face down, all the way to shore, scraping hands and knees.

Every weekend, when the weather was good we'd go to the beach, a 30 min drive from home. When the weather wasn't, we'd be at the club.  

Soon the five of us, (Anna + 4 kids) became well known for being in and around water bodies (including running around sprinkler systems in the garden).  Our parents friends started to ask Anna to take their children to the pool or the beach. They would even drop and pick them up.  I now suspect that it was a way for many parents to get 3-5 hours of peace each weekend.

Shark Sandwich at Bake and Shark
Maracas Bay, Trinidad
Photo Courtesy

So we got used to spending our beach / pool time with other kids. Collecting shells and scrapes. Eating shark sandwiches.  Drying out in the sun.

I think the maximum number of children Anna has taken out to swim has been 9. Each one a little younger than the next, so that when we stood in age order, our decreasing heights created a downward sloping line.

The story goes, that on one such occasion, when Anna had taken us all out to swim, a Trinidadian came up to Anna and asked him, in all seriousness:

"Mr. Murthi .... Are these all your children or have you left some at home?"

Now when Anna hears this line, he remembers the water and sun, the pride of children playing free, and his face lights up with a smile.


  1. I believe that my father would have loved to swim, at 87, if he did not have Parkinson's Disease (and if we had facilities where this kind of physical therapy was available). Anna loved to swim. I can still picture him in his black swimming shorts, swimming lengths or riding the waves. Now, he does not like wearing shorts 'coz he thinks his legs look too spindly!

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    puis-je vous soumettre une question : me permettez-vous de faire un lien par mail vers cet article ? Merci pour tout.

  3. Hi Loran - I am sorry, I don't understand French. Used Google translate. Are you asking for permission to send the link to this blog post by email to someone?