Sunday, December 18, 2011

Blowin' in the wind

(An edited version of this story appeared, this week, in a local paper called Friday Gurgaon)

Ahead of me, the land stretched out vast and flat, the unusual grey-white mud underfoot smooth as a playing field. As I step into the harness and tighten it around my chest and legs, I notice the Aravallis rising like a blue wall in the distance. Around us -- a mixed group of urban Indians and foreigners brought together by Escape Delhi, a company that organises imaginative trips outside the city – a noisy gaggle of villagers has congregated.

There are numerous children so poor they don’t have any lower garments to protect them against the December cold; there are old men in straggly beards; there are prepubescent girls burdened with snot-nosed younger siblings; there is the occasional village idiot who gawks at the women with an unpractised leer and there are lots of very young men atop tractors and on shiny motorbikes. The villagers, clearly, don’t have much to occupy them on this fine Sunday afternoon and our group, intent on riding the wind, is the exciting paisa-vasool show of the weekend! Indeed, though the village of Chhapda in Sohna is only about two hours away from modern Gurgaon, it seems to live in the middle ages even in terms of entertainment options. It wouldn’t have been surprising to learn that the men driving the tractors were charging for the show.

These thoughts course through my mind as I prepare to run after the jeep, to which I am tethered, until my parasail lifts me up into the air. Suddenly, my phone rings. It’s my mother. I dare not tell her what I’m up to. The knowledge would most definitely cause her to lapse into the stress-induced asthmatic fit of the year.

“Oh, I’m just out for a walk,” I lie. “I’ll call you back as soon as I’m done,” I say watching one of my group run a few steps and then take off in the air, his parasail rising above him like a beautiful silken mushroom.

I stand there gazing up at him and wonder about Pierre-Marcel Lemoigne who, according to wikipedia, that great collective brain of the modern world, developed the first parasail canopy back in 1961, and about how it was another 20 years before the world discovered the joys of soaring through the air while being umbilically attached to a moving vehicle.

Not to be confused with paragliding that requires enthusiasts to enroll for courses and earn a license, parasailing requires nothing but common sense and a slight instinct for self-preservation, at least from the parasailer. The person attached to the parasail, is towed by a boat or a vehicle, in this case a jeep, and carried into the air by the wind. Unlike paragliding, which requires instruction, practice and skill, a parasailer only needs to relax and enjoy herself and, of course, ensure that she doesn’t do anything stupid in midair like get her hands entangled in the harness strings.

It doesn’t seem particularly frightening though a few miniscule butterflies do flutter in my tummy when my turn approaches. Thankfully, I have no time to ponder about my nervousness or the lack of it. The instructor, a fast talking energetic man in Raybans, yells at the spellbound audience to step back, revs the jeep engine and we’re off. I’ve barely run a few steps when I find myself treading air and just like that, I’m airborne.

It’s quiet up there, 50 feet in the air, and I can hear myself think. It feels almost like an out-of-body experience. Far below me, the villagers are reduced to little pawns and the instructor looks like he’s driving a dinky jeep. Not so far away, mustard fields stretch out like a thick yellow carpet. It feels like I am being carried through the air by a giant bird, the Roc out of Sinbad the sailor. It’s blissful. But all too soon the jeep halts and the descent begins. I stiffen my legs and feel wildly exhilarated as I glide onto the ground like a giant butterfly. So exhilarated am I that I whip out my cell phone and call my mother.

“I just parasailed for the first time,” I inform her.
“Phew, good thing I went to the temple this morning,” she responds with a laugh.

The one big takeaway from my parasailing adventure: I should always present my mother with a fait accompli. Ah, soaring through the air has definitely helped with life lessons!

Escape Delhi:
Tel: +91 9999438784

Picture credit: The pix are my own humble work. Shot on my detested but very useful Samsung Galaxy that has turned me into a photofreak, who wants to capture everything...

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