Even “If I were a rich man” as Tevye wished to be, so much was out there to “Take my breath away”.
There are some memories which just refuse to fade away. Watching “Fiddler on the Roof” in an open-air theatre at Ghorpuri on a wet Saturday evening is one of them. My course-mate Govila and I sharing a singular raincoat in a failed attempt to ward off an unexpected downpour. Under our leaky shelter, splitting pieces of soggy Coconut Chiki bought from the local tuck shop. The strains of “If I were a Rich man…” beautifully sung on-screen by the vibrant and so-very likeable Tevye sticking on to our inner confines for a life-time.
Incidentally, the sweet-natured Tevye in the musical became a household name for many years. Not many people know that it was Chaim Topol, an Israeli actor who played the character in the 1971 film adaptation. He also played Tevye in more than 3,500 live shows from 1967 to 2009. As they say, his work spanned ‘countries, decades and mediums’. He recently breathed his last at the age of 87 after a long battle with Alzheimer.
Another great loss to the musical world has been the sad demise of Tom Whitlock, who won a Best Song Oscar for co-writing the ‘top of the charts’ iconic number ‘Take My Breath Away’ from Top Gun. In his case, his smash hit creation is more famous than the creator himself. His breath literally got taken away at a not-so-old age of 68. One moment there and the next moment ‘well not quite’ there.
Philosophically speaking, the difference between life and death is just one breath. Reminding me of this truth always, has been another memory that I am not too proud of.
Like most of us, I had also always taken life for granted in a way. Well at least till my rather close encounter of an aqua kind. It was a squadron picnic way back in 1985 that we had gone across to the Tajewala Barrage in Yamuna Nagar district. I understand it is de-commissioned now, but at that time it regulated the flow of the Yamuna for irrigation in UP and Haryana.
With a nearby govt guest house available to provide the facilities, it was indeed a very scenic and picturesque spot. Absolutely idyllic with the gentlest of breeze flowing. The tranquil water appeared refreshing and felt so inviting. Two-three of us daring types stripped ourselves into our swimming trunks and got into the water. The idea was to have a brief swim before the sumptuous lunch awaiting us.
I was ‘not too bad’ a swimmer but at the same time could not claim to be ‘a very good one’ either. So I had decided not to venture too much away from the shoreline. As I was merrily splashing away and enjoying myself, I suddenly perceived that my distance from the shore had substantially increased. I had somehow not realized that there was a strong and deceptive under-current. Later of course, we would come to know that the barrage sluice gates had been opened without a public warning.
I made an attempt to swim across to the shore. However, from personal experience I can vouch that even a two-minute swim against the current can be extremely exhausting . It literally drains away your energy reserves. And then to be honest, panic sets in. A bit of water ingestion combined with my furious gasping for breath, I felt it was the end of the world. So much flashes through your mind in those few seconds. Especially the regretful thought about how foolish and naïve I had been.
The odd place where my feet could feel the bottom of the water body, it was sharp mossy rocks and very slippery. Further, to add salt to injury, my waving for help was not understood by the innocent onlookers on the shore. They thought that I was having a merry time and a couple of them in fact, waved back in acknowledgement. Today it seems laughable, but at that moment, it certainly did not.
Fortunately, divine intervention took place and I was fortuitously able to hold on to a rather big rock. My sqn mates formed a mini human chain and rescued me out of the water. A panting yours truly took quite some time to regain his breath. My marine misery had lasted probably less than five minutes. It was however more than enough to teach me ample lessons for a lifetime.
Actually my recollections of this particular incident came back to haunt me last night. I had kind of dozed off in a wrong posture with an ill-placed large pillow under my neck. Inadvertently choked for a moment, I woke up coughing like my old Ambassador silencer which I guess was a natural reflex action for survival. A few gentle sips of water and normalcy was restored. Essentially felt relieved although nothing grave had happened.
I could not thereafter sleep as I tossed in bed for quite sometime. My mental ruminations took me across to the Turkey earthquake victims many of whom had breathed their last under the rubble. I wondered about the little baby who was found alive even after being buried for 5 days and the puppy which miraculously survived after 22 days. Which karmic forces were in play to mete out different fates to different people under similar circumstances?
What was going through the mind of the famous kid ‘Prince’ when he was stuck in a borewell? And many infants like him who don’t get saved and stand testimony to the callousness of an ignorant society? The thousands who struggled for that ‘one more breath’ when Covid was on a rampage. The doctors who bet their own lives to save ours.
And then a sudden pang of wrath aimed at the Bidens and the Putins of the world. While being at each other’s throat, they were extinguishing many a lives in war zones around the world. Who had after all given them the right to play God?
Even “If I were a rich man” as Tevye wished to be, so much was out there to “Take my breath away”. I can’t remember when I had finally gone to sleep. I can however vividly recall waking up rather fresh in the morning. Surprisingly as light as a daisy. I guess it just felt good to be alive. Was it a different pillow? I had a closer look.
Well it looked quite the same. Only that it was filled with gratitude.
First published at seekmediation.com on 17/03/23
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