Rajpreet Kaur Warna shows what it feels like to be exploring the ocean in a scuba suit. Picture by Sayantan Ghosh
Laila of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara took Hrithik Roshan scuba diving and dived into his heart; mother-of-one Rajpreet Kaur Warna threw herself in at the deep end and emerged in love with an adventure called life.
Calcutta girl Rajpreet, 35, weighed 90kg and didn’t know swimming until two-and-a-half years ago. Today, she is only the second woman in India with a certificate from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the world’s largest diver-training organisation.
“It has been difficult clearing one level after another of certification because it gets progressively more taxing on your strength and stamina. At the final level, in Thailand, I had to tow a 10kg block of concrete to a boat in the ocean,” the former student at St. Xavier’s College told Metro.
When Rajpreet of Patuli took the plunge during a visit to Neil Island in the Andamans in 2011, little did she know that scuba would be her source of succour after a personal setback.
“What helped me grind my way through it all was that I was going through a low phase in life after my separation and I clung on to this (scuba diving) like there was nothing else in the world,” recounted Rajpreet, the mother of 10-year-old Yuvraj.
Her initiation into scuba diving was through Archana Sardana, the mother of a friend of Yuvraj’s at Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. Archana was then the only woman in the country to hold a Master Scuba Diver Trainer certificate, a qualification shared by only around 10 Indian men.
Nobody, not even herself, would have given Rajpreet a chance of joining Archana in two years’ time. But something happened during that first dive which changed her life.
“I had started swimming only in October 2011 and was quite comfortable in the pool within a month. But this was a very different experience.... In the ocean, it was cold and dark. I could not see a thing and was frightened,” recalled Rajpreet.
As life in the ocean passed her by, Rajpreet even cursed herself for taking up the sea challenge when she could have been at home spending time in more sedate ways. Then love struck.
“I fell in love with the world under the sea,” she said. “I started enjoying the basic courses and cleared them rather easily. By March 2012, not only had I become addicted to scuba diving, I was certified as a rescue diver trained to aid an unresponsive person at sea.”
Seven months later, Rajpreet was ready to take the penultimate challenge on her way to becoming a trainer: an exam at Havelock in the Andamans. The theory test included physics and geography, for which she recalls having “studied hard after ages”.
Rajpreet also had to log 60 dives of 12m or more to be eligible for the exam, which like the previous ones she cleared without much trouble. In late 2012, she left for Thailand to complete the final course — the seventh degree of certification for the Master Scuba Diver Trainer tag.
So engrossed in scuba diving Rajpreet had been over the past two years that she did not find time for anything else, not even for a show of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara!
When she did watch the film recently, Rajpreet was fascinated by the character of Laila, played by Katrina Kaif. “When she (Laila) said that scuba diving was ‘meditation under water’, I had goosebumps,” said Rajpreet, who counts seeing an octopus change colour underwater and coming within 10ft of a white-tip reef shark among the fringe benefits of scuba diving.
Her eyes light up as she describes underwater life forms like the camouflaging, venomous stonefish, the scorpion fish and the black-and-white banded snake.
“The greater depths you reach, the pressure increases and you feel dizzy. So you have to focus on something close to you. I stretched myself to reach 40m, which is considered very good,” said Rajpreet, who is in talks with some Calcutta schools to introduce a diving course.
“The deal is that the kids who are good can be given a certificate called Bubblemaker in Calcutta itself and taken to the Andamans to clear the basic levels of the diving test,” she said.
Given the lady’s Laila-like looks, kids won’t be the only ones raising their hands.
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