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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Insignificant World out there

It was early morning 0630 hrs. I have seen enough of early mornings in my life to last me a lifetime. When I was training early morning was 0500 hrs, when I was doing a morning watch on board my ship, early morning was 0400 hrs. Now I was doing this Sky Diving course and early morning was again 0530 hrs.

I had got up early morning then, and a cold and uncomfortable army jonga had ferried me to the airport from my Mess. For those adventure seekers, I recommend a ride in a cold, uncomfortable army jonga with an army jawan driving it. So there was no question of me being still sleepy when I reached the airport. I think our instructors had some doubt, so they had fauji chai ready for us at the airport. I was not sleepy at all, but my nerves were frayed and that tea did nothing to soothe them. Fauji chai....hmmm lots of everything in it, except taste.

So I had the chai and now with my parachute strapped behind me was waiting for the
Cessna to start up. I am usually emotionless and maybe the instructors mistook it as confidence. I was chosen to be the first one to go up in the small aircraft, and obviously that was not all.....I was also to be the first one to jump out. The aircraft spluttered and misfired and then finally started. It taxied to the runway and our instructor jogged up to the door. He signalled us to get in as per our pre decided sequence. My jump partner went in first and then the jump master and finally me, as I was to jump out first. The pilot, a cute sardarji looked at my sweating face and gave me a cute smile.

I immediately banished his smiling face from my mind and tried to concentrate on my jump. We had been trained enough on the ground, to the point that we had got irritated and were itching for some real action now. The make believe "out, in, out" and "1000, 2000, 3000" had haunted us in our sleep and we were all eager to feel the real thing. Suddenly now, as the plane was speeding to get airborne, I felt that I was not ready....I needed more training, what was I to do if my chute didn't open....Shit, I had forgotten. What if the plane crashed, what if I fell down now only.....my mind was blank, I was sweating, I wanted to get a grip on the smiling sardar's neck and force him to land the plane back. God, why was I doing this......and why in heavens name, had I volunteered for this? As the plane kept climbing, my pulse started racing even faster. My determination, not to jump steadily increasing.

The jump master patted my leg.....I forced myself to look at him. He gave me a thumbs up. That was procedure. He gave me a thumbs up, if I was ready I gave him a thumbs up. There was no looking back then. If I did not jump, i would be pushed out. There was no way I was giving him a thumbs up. No way in the world. I wanted the plane down, forget thumbs up. Well, speaking of soft drinks, I guess the sprite ad kicked in and I finally gave him a very shaky and sweaty thumbs up. The jump master immediately got into action. He aligned the pilot over the drop zone, asked him to slow down the plane, attached my rip chord to a strong point on the plane, maneuvered himself half in and half out of the door, and looked down.....5000 feet below waiting for the exact spot where he wanted me to jump.

I already told you I was emotionless. Now I became heartless, brainless, weightless....just mechanical. I forced my body onto the edge of the door and took my right leg out and kept it on the wheel of the plane, as I had so often done on the ground. But that was the ground and this was 5000 feet in the air with a strong wind making every movement impossible.
I braced my body with the left leg on the step of the plane and both hands on either side of the door frame. I dared not look down.....I looked straight....into the
sun.

So here I was, all ground instructions forgotten, heart beating wildly, 5000 feet above the ground, wind itching to pull me out of the plane, jump master waiting to give me the dreaded pat, wondering WHY I was here? My life flashed by in a second. My parents, brother, wife....all my seemingly large problems in life....nothing really mattered now. All that mattered was when the pat would come and whether I would jump.

And "pat" it came. Seemingly suddenly...out of nowhere. I looked at my jump master with a "What am I supposed to do now" look. I guess he had seen others like me. He calmly pointed out of the door and mouthed the words "JUMP". I nodded.....hesitated.....did a very unconvincing out....a huge in...and although I wanted to just stay in now....I shouted "ouuuuuuuuuuttt" and jumped out, not caring anymore what I remembered, what I had forgotten, what had happened to me, how scared I was, whether I was going to live, die......I just jumped and closed my eyes. I forgot 1000, 2000, 3000.....I forgot the emergency procedure.....I just jumped and waited......suddenly there was a huge flapping noise and my fall was broken. I knew what had happened or rather I hoped what I thought had happened and expectantly looked up (this was part of procedure) to see the huge blue and white canopy rapidly filling up with air...all lines were untangled and OK (in subsequent jumps, I was to have twists and other small emergencies, but thankfully the first jump was perfect) and the canopy deployed perfectly.

I immediately regained my composure and all the ground training kicked in. I steered the canopy into the wind using the rear risers and pulled out the toggles for steering my canopy further. All my anxiety gone, I started enjoying the flight now. I had done paragliding earlier so flying the canopy was not difficult for me. The terrifying part was jumping out of the plane and thankfully that was over. I enjoyed the proximity of the sun, the wind on my face, the sound of the fluttering canopy, the squares of different shades of green below. I did a couple of maneuvers, a stall, S turn, figure of 8 while continuously checking the altimeter. I did not stray too far from over the airstrip as that was my largest and safest reference (on later jumps I would be dropped so far away from this reference that even getting back as the crow flies was a miracle).

As soon as my alti showed that I was flying at 1700 feet I started on my landing circuit. it was very important to land into the wind and for that it was very important to do a perfect circuit. Also as I was the first jumper, I did not want to have a bad landing and scare the rest of my group. They say the only time you can actually get hurt while skydiving is on the ground (while landing). So I did a perfect circuit, the downwind, crosswind and the final landing leg and flared my canopy just when I was one and a half times my height above the ground. Thankfully I landed gracefully on my feet (I have always landed on my feet...till the time of writing this post...lets see how long my luck lasts).

I could feel my legs trembling and mouth parched and I walked back to the expectant group of waiting jumpers. I tried the Clint Eastwood swagger acting as if I just crossed a busy road and that was all. Everyone just pounced on me as soon as I was within pouncing distance.

"How was it?"
"Did you have an emergency?"
"How did you find your reference?"

There were a couple of beautiful girls in this expectant group, including the beautiful Chitrangada Singh, and I just waved off all questions. Remember, I had just crossed a busy road...that's all. I reserved my best smile for her and gave her a confident thumbs up.

I then rushed back to the hangar and downed a bottle full of water. The next thing I did was to thank God almighty for keeping me alive. I had to concentrate on my legs to make them stop shaking. I saw myself in the mirror and saw my scared, sweating and red face. I could not help but smile at myself for the way I must have looked out there trying to look unfazed while the truth was so evident.

Authors note: That was my first jump. An experience of a life time. I have had a few more after that. This is what I love about adventure, where life is at stake. EVERYTHING else in the world looks so inconspicuous and insignificant.

2 comments:

Anindita said...

It is an amazing experience...you have shared here....a lesson...inspiration...courage.....and a kind of suggestion to daringly win our fear.Really everything else is INSIGNIFICANT..!

neerja.dhar said...

i really enjoyed reading it... pheww just thinking how much i gonna enjoy experiencing it... Lucky man... as u say fauj hai toh mauj hai.. karo mauj.. :) cheers and best wishes for your future adventures...