“If you want a gold medal in Indian swimming, better win by ten meters or there will always be scope for mischief!” It was an unspoken creed in the Indira Gandhi indoor swimming pool that kept parents and trainees on constant edge.
It was a daily ritual. The tight circle of young, tanned, dripping faces gazed at their coach. Their parents sat yards away, smiling thinly at the trainer’s words. A lesser lead meant being open to manipulation, the bane of Indian sports. And still they came, by the hordes, with their snack bags and flasks, willing their children to swim their guts out for a glory that was just a heart break away. The inviolable fact was that India neither had the will nor the wherewithal to produce Olympians as a matter of course.
But Mr. D’Costa was not worried. His son Cary was the State star and a future National champion. And those were only the milestones. Cary’s aim, as outlined by his father, was to leave behind the league of Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal. D’Costa backed his ambition for his son with an unrelenting drive, support and dedicated care. Swimming was a mission, the pool his battlefield and the aqua folks his family. On most days, it was hard to tell him from the staff. At complete ease with the dank corridors and their indifferent occupants, he had the answer to everything a mortal parent could come up with.
It was the State Swimming Championships, day one. Busy with the registrations, D’Costa was unperturbed over his son’s event. Cary was expected to win. The coach had just the day prior, lauded his daily base metabolism record. “His torso to legs ratio is made for the Olympics,” he had grunted to the beaming father. D’Costa was not done hugging the words to himself yet over the diving splashes from the starting blocks when his head snapped up at the sudden, strident whistle. Burrows knotted in confusion, he slowly took in what he was seeing. Some swimmers were paddling water halfway, heads craning towards the flailing coach, what was he doing in the water? Three of the racers had pulled away to the finish. He squinted for Cary. Had he struck gold already?
There was a hush, like the whoosh of a vacuum cleaner. A clouded, ominous supension, people freezing mid-motion. In a split, as though by telepathy, all heads spun towards the starting blocks. Cary was floating up from the bottom of the shallow end, the top of his head bleeding red.
The father’s knees buckled to the concrete. He grasped feebly at the air. A parent bent over, pulling at him, babbling incoherently, “Karma. It is karma. You must have done bad karma in your last life!”
They say time is a healer. Not really. Over days and months, wounds tire of hurting. They patch up with the fatigue of mourning. The heart is so spent and still, it appears whole once again. It wasn’t until months later, during the sports federation inquiry into the incident that it was established that Cary had indeed executed the “pike” dive at the starting pistol achieving a catastrophic head depth and velocity. The technique involved tucking his chin into the chest at the start of the entry. When he hit the shallow bottom, his neck broke, dislocating the spine.
What made an experienced swimmer like Cary take an unusual break from his regular grab start shallow race dive to the capricious pike? “I have no memory of what followed,” D’Costa’s refusal to implicate anyone at the proceedings had remained dogged. Diagnosed with an acute stress reaction, he was prone to insist, “I suffered total amnesia.”
He was lying. There was one word seared in his memory since, eclipsing all else. Karma! It played over and over in his head. What a futile explanation? How heinous could his past life sin have been to have deserved this living death?
A pale shadow of his former self, he was shuffling out of the stadium after the final hearing that day. He had been getting wind of conspiracy theories alluding to an envious parent or two. Brought up as a good Christian, he had dismissed the “nonsense” as he called the concerned jabber of Cary’s friends and fans.
Ah, there he was that helpful parent again, surrounded by a clutch of promising trainees. D’Costa drew closer, wanting to talk karma. But he halted at the muffled words, “To give yourself a powerful take off at the start, for the pike dive, you should go over the rope, four to five feet above water!”