World Oceans Day 2019: Diving deep with Prahlad Kakar

Ad filmmaker and diver Prahlad Kakar gives NICHOLA PAIS a glimpse into the life-changing experience of letting go

My greatest teacher—and I have had some really great teachers—is actually the ocean. I came in touch with the ocean for the first time when I came to Bombay at the age of 19. I would sit for hours at the sea shore, just watching and counting the waves. It was close to the monsoon and the ocean was really rough. No two waves were the same. And the feeling of power of the ocean was enormously fascinating and scary. When the waves come and hit the shore during the monsoon, they are not gentle like in winter—they come pounding in one after another almost like a train. You know within you that if you get lost in the ocean, that’s the end of your life.

Only when I was 40, did I actually immerse myself into the ocean. In Mauritius I had accompanied my friends on a dive by mistake. I was sitting in the boat, rocking away in the middle of nowhere. My friends had disappeared into the blue. There was nothing I could do but try to hold my breakfast down, feeling sick as a dog and green around the gills. The boatman refused to drop me back but he felt sorry for me and said, ‘Here, take a mask and fins and jump into the water. You’ll feel much better’. I had never worn a mask in my life but I put it on and jumped in out of sheer desperation. I didn’t even realise I was jumping into my greatest fear… Then I lowered my head…and hell, I could see forever! I could see down there 15-20 metres down to the bottom, I could see all my friends who were diving, the fish, the coral; it was fascinating. It was like being in a giant aquarium!

That one instance just completely changed my whole fear to curiosity. I convinced the diving instructor to take me and another friend down for a dive. Now it was all very well when we were planning it, when the moment of truth came, after we had worn all the equipment, feeling claustrophobic as hell, the funk kicked in again! I was sitting there saying, ‘Oh f*&# what have I got myself into?’ I was convinced it was the moment of reckoning and I wasn’t going to return.

When it was time, I went down backwards, struggled a bit, deflated the jacket and went down slowly… I was panicking, hyperventilating, breathing four times faster than usual. I used up a tank that had one-and-a-half-hours air in it, in 15 minutes flat! After a while I started looking around… and got distracted. I saw something fluttering on the reef and indicated the same to my instructor. He left my hand and said, ‘Go get it’. I quaked. But then I managed to reach the reef. The object turned out to be a book, fluttering away in the tide. I clutched it to my chest and surfaced. It turned out to be the Quran. Five years later, I set up India’s first scuba diving school in a little island in Lakshadweep which was 99 per cent Muslim.

Diving transported me to the womb of the Mother. You start rethinking your entire life when you are underwater because you are scared, paranoid your air is going to run out, you are exhilarated, high on adrenaline, absorbing nitrogen under pressure, so you’re actually flying, like you’re in a drug-induced euphoria! You are weightless, all you can hear is your own heartbeat, and there is a whole life-cycle around you if you choose to look at it. And then when you surface, the sense of relief at the fact that you have survived, that you have been introduced into a weightless world which is full of colour and life…all hits you at the same time. When you’re returning, everyone on the boat is talking simultaneously sharing the experience. Or then some are sitting quietly in a corner just regurgitating the experience.

When you are in the womb of the sea, you can actually feel the power of the ocean because it’s surrounding you. Every time it hiccuped, every time it shifted, you could feel it…because you were like a little speck, which is part of this enormous power. Your struggles against it, our attempts to counter it, were hopeless. You realise the power. You understand the first words of wisdom of the rule of the ocean–’Immerse yourself and your soul into the mighty ocean and become a part of it. Then you will be as powerful as the ocean’.

In the yogic sense, it means letting go… of your ego, your superiority, all the knowledge you have accumulated, the relationships that you hold dear, your fears, all the material things you have collected, your likes and dislikes, loves and hates, and merging with the ocean in purity, with no baggage. To be comfortable in the ocean and become one with it, you have to let go off your baggage. And you come out at the other end, light and pure. And then you immediately start collecting baggage again!

Letting go is the biggest lesson in life. It generally takes a long time to arrive at the level of zero—in the ocean it’s three days. If you doesn’t happen in three days, you never go back. All the people who never go back after their first dives are incapable of letting go. If you suffer from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) you can’t dive because the ocean is not in your order—it’s in its own order and you have to follow it. On the other hand, the ocean is also a cure for OCD because if you can actually learn to let go, then you’re free of your disorder.

As an instructor, I found the cleansing of baggage such an important part of psychology because it heals you from deep trauma and wounds which you carried in your mind obsessively, without realising it. As long as you were on shore, you felt you were safe but the moment you went into the ocean and realised there was a completely different set of rules, the baggage got in the way, staring you in the face, all your phobias, obsessions, traumas… You have to face them and overcome them one at a time before you can actually become comfortable in the water. Therapeutically it is amazing especially for those who are psychologically wounded. But it’s a drastic treatment, it isn’t gentle. So, when are coming for a dive?

(June 8 is World Ocean’s Day)