Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Duty hasn't been very light lately this time. My shift hours have changed to 6pm-6am like last time. That gives me some respite from the scorching heat during the day, but the night has its own can of worms. Where the day has searing temperatures, the night has very high humidity. Occasionally a wind sweeps by, taking with it our blessings.
A few days back, I volunteered to go to the top of the Derrick, called the Crown. The Derrick is the steep triangular structure typical to a rig. Our crown, the top of the derrick, is approximately 200ft from the rig floor. The rig floor is a good 130ft above the Main deck of the rig. And the main deck looms a 100ft above the sea. So that makes the Crown roughly 400ft above mean sea level, almost as much as a 30-story building.
And that's when I came to know a very crucial thing about me. One that I was curious about since as long as I can remember. I don't have Acrophobia, the fear of heights.
My mother often told me stories of my naughty childhood. And there were so many stories, I tell you. In one such story, however, she says I always used to love eating, and showing off my food in style to all the neighbors at the same time. So whenever food was served, I used to ask Maa to mix all the food together, essentially rice and curries, and feed me with her own hands. I remember being fed by her even years after my sister was born (and she is good 6 years newer than me). Although I learnt to walk early, eat myself even earlier than the regular kids (as Maa says), I still preferred being fed by my mother. I think I still do.
So I was probably about 5 then, Maa used to serve food, mix them and I would run across the front door and the porch, to the gate of out independent house in Rajahmundry, Andhra. I would climb onto the pillars supporting the main gate and perch myself on one side, almost 7ft off ground. And Maa had to always come and feed me there during the day, and I would eat and chat with my neighbor Bobby and Vinitha in Telegu.
When I was around 13, around the time I was preparing for my Swimming Nationals, during one Summer break, a special Coach visited our Club. He was a National Champion and had represented the nation in the Commonwealth Games. By profession, a constable with the Local Police. I always reach the pool early, before anybody else, and when the cleaning was still on. This coach, Ravi, used to practice, dance rather, during this time. He was like a Dolphin. He taught me to cover the entire length of the pool, 75ft to be exact, Underwater. He said he liked my eagerness and interest in Swimming. But always advised me never to make it my profession. He believed hobbies are to be kept strictly separate from the professional life.
One of those days, he said he would teach me how to dive. I said I already knew how. He smiled, turned away from me, walked to the ladder, and climbed. We had 3 diving boards: Base Level, 15ft and 40ft. Ravi took the 15ft board and took his stance. Jumped. Took a reverse somersault and entered the waters in a clean, splash-less dive, straight into the depths. I jumped with joy and started running towards the ladder. Normally the top 2 diving boards were off-limits. But after I received Ravi’s signal I ran to dive. Ravi cried out, ‘Just jump today. I will teach you to dive later. And dive straight.’ I kept climbing. I crossed the 15ft board, Ravi shouted not to go higher. I was still climbing. I just had to jump that day. I might not have another chance, I thought then. At the top I took my stance and Ravi went silent. And watched. I jumped. Ravi later said I took four forward somersaults before hitting the water with a loud splash. I had a sore, red back for almost a week, but never missed a Swimming session.
My stint in Kota wasn’t a very happy one all the time. It taught me a lot of things. And most of all it taught me to see myself as I am, when I was alone. I used to fight with my parents, mostly my mother almost every other day. We lived in a 50story building (that we still live in). Whenever I had a fight I would go to the terrace of the building, sit on the ledge, my legs dangling on the outside. The spot had a nice view of the Opera Hospital Road, Talwandi Circle, Paani Tanki, Om Cineplex in the distance and a super busy road. My parents came to know about the spot when I had already left Kota for college.
After one such fight, at night around 2AM, I came up frustrated with my parents, and myself. I sat on my regular spot, with my feet dangling freely. In was very quiet that night. No dogs even. In the distance I saw four bright headlamps moving parallel to each other in a straight line and at a slow pace. When they came near I spotted four Karizmas, all black, four leather jacketed and black helmet riders. One of the riders looked up and I think he saw me. And they left sooner than they came in. By then I had forgotten about the fight and I left to sleep.
About 10 days later, after a similar fight, again at around 2AM I was in the same spot. I had come there many times in the last 10 days, but not this late. Tonight was colder than usual. I carried along a Shawl. There was a steady breeze. No dogs, again. That night I saw the four headlamps again. This time I had made up my mind to wave at them if anyone looked up. They came closer, I got ready to wave. But then they came to a halt. Parked the Karizmas parallel to each other, blocking the entire width of the road, on their side stands, headlamps still on. All four got down, took off their helmets. Long hair. They were all young women. All in their primes. Desirable and attractive. Supremely bold.
And they all were looking at me. One of shouted out, “Kaisa hai?” I stood up on the ledge, adjusted my shawl, my heart beating madly in its cage. I managed a smile. I hardly hope it was noticed. The road was well lit, but I don’t think I was. After what seemed like a long pause another slightly plump one cried out, “Alag hona asaan nahi Bachhe. Soch le, bohot mushkil hogi.” That was weird. I had no comeback. And all this time they all had their eyes fixated on me only. They did not even chat with each other.
The first one, this time said something I couldn’t hear distinctly. I still kept mum, pacing slowly on the ledge. I was still tongued-tied, like I always was in front of women. I was surprised I at least managed my gait. They got on their bikes, and one said, “Take Care Buddy”. I waved at them, finally. They waved back. One, on the extreme right, who hadn’t spoken this entire time, blew me a flying kiss. And then they vroomed away, never to be seen ever again. The halt lasted hardly in seconds, the night, however, had just begun.
On this Wednesday, I climbed the Crown, it was an exhausting climb up the steep ladder that was almost up. On reaching the top, I squatted on the grating below me and breathed heavily. It was early in the morning, around 7AM. Slightly cloudy, the sun pepping from behind the cloud in bright orange, a cool breeze and pitch silence. I looked down, through the grating, 200ft below, all those huge Roughnecks looked so tiny. The giant pulleys around me were rotating at breakneck speeds. Eerily silent, dangerously fast. And the deep blue waters all around, the magnanimous sea, the orange reflection of the Sun, a few rigs in the horizon, and me. That moment almost felt as if time had actually stopped. That moment did stay, for long.
Having finished all the inspections I went up for I got down after about an hour and took a halt at the Monkeyboard, which is halfway up to the Crown. A monkeyboard is where a Derrickman works. You have to see YouTube videos to get an idea of what he actually has to do. I tried my hand at it. It gets scary at times, thankfully for me not because of the height but the heavy machinery around. And then I knew another thing about me. The fear of heights is completely different and independent of the fear of falling from heights. And I do have the later.
4th week going on. Just a few more days left. We had a Flare here today. 'Flare'. Does ring a bell, doesn't it? But that's a story for another day. ;)
Till next then