We Were In The Right Place At The Right Time
It was just an ordinary afternoon, yet it turned out to be a significant day. At the time, I lived in Calcutta and a good friend, Nirmal Ghosh, and I had no university lectures to attend. On a whim, he suggested that we go for a swim at the Tollygunge Club, a purely random decision that was to have a crucial consequence.
It was 1976 or possibly the summer of 1977, just before I started a cadetship in journalism. Although we did not know it at the time, Nirmal would also follow me into the same profession. We have remained close friends for the ensuing three decades, despite living in different countries. He is now a senior foreign correspondent, award-winning documentary maker, author, photographer and conservationist.
That afternoon, though, we were carefree youngsters, just enjoying the unhurried pace of the day. Only a few metres from where this photograph was taken, we emerged from the changing room with our bags and towels over our shoulders.
Because it was a weekday, the normally crowded, bustling pool was practically deserted, with fewer than half a dozen people. As we looked for a table, something suddenly caught my eye. There was someone at the bottom of the pool, motionless. It was too small a figure to be an adult.
I dropped everything. Did I remove my watch? I honestly cannot remember. Did I gulp oxygen before hitting the water? Again, I honestly cannot remember.
I’ve heard lifesavers explain how rescuing someone and bringing them back up to the surface is a tricky challenge because a limp human form is dead weight, even in the water. Truly, I cannot tell you whether I scooped the kid up with my left hand, my right hand or both hands.
I cannot tell you whether I came back up to the surface using just one hand and my legs, or whether I cradled the motionless child in both hands and simply used the power in my legs to return to the surface.
All I can remember is that I put the child (now I could see he was a boy) on the side of the pool. His eyes were closed. He wasn’t breathing.
Because two of my older brothers were in the navy, I knew the basics of artificial respiration and resuscitation. I didn’t know how long the boy had been at the bottom of the pool. I didn’t know whether my attempts at CPR would work.
I didn’t know whether I had brought a corpse to the surface. But I hoped against hope that we would be able to induce some breathing.
In a few seconds, I had the assistance of another teenage swimmer, a bloke I knew from the college social circuit. Shortly, the boy I had rescued began to breathe and in a couple of minutes he was fully conscious.
What happened next? Nirmal and I dived back in the pool and enjoyed the rest of the sunny afternoon.
But while I was writing this post, I rang Nirmal to see what he remembered of the afternoon. He and I are both parents now, and it was immediately evident from the conversation that our present-day reaction to the rescue from all those years ago was much deeper and far more intense, probably based on the fact that we are both fathers now.
Who was the little boy? I have no idea. We never knew if he was there with his parents or if he was with family friends.
Perhaps the Tollygunge Club would have some record of the incident, although I think this would be unlikely since the child suffered no injury or lasting damage. Maybe the power of the internet could provide a solution, uncovering the identity of the little boy who would now be in his forties.
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