Monday, May 28, 2012

S K Y D I V E


Jiri Pys started it all and he did not even know.
Adventure of any kind is inviting. The allure increases exponentially with the risk. The more they explain - that everything is simple, organized, there is nothing to worry about, we have done it a few thousand times, so there relax, we are capable - the more worried you get.
I was stupid enough to start making a wish list (renamed as “The Bucket List” thanks to the baritone of Freeman and the scoundrel charm of Jack) long while ago and kept rearranging them. Some looked frivolous after a few years and some looked outright impossible as the girth expanded. However strong your will can be it does not take you to 8841m on icy slopes where breathing itself is a task. This list underwent many changes and is apparently in its final form, having 12 items, just like Jesus had his 12 disciples. The Judas amongst them was “Sky Jumping” simply because it was close to my heart as well as the only one that could send me back to my Father.
This longing that once nestled inside me glowed a while during the days of youth and went back to hibernation. I was so busy, like most of us, making a living that I forgot to live. Two things happened that blew the settling ash and exposed the red hot ember that was still simmering inside which surprised even me. One, I came to Czech where this could be actually done with minimum fuss. Two, I met Jiri who had his picture, of jumping out of the plane, behind his desk. One small query and the usually talkative Jiri became garrulous. It was impossible to stop him. After a few minutes I stopped listening to his metronomic voice. Not because what he was explaining was not enthralling but I saw the glow and excitement all over his face, particularly his eyes which lit up to a 10,000 watts. I could see that he was not telling me anything; he was actually reliving those moments. The die was cast.
You need partners in crime. A semi crazy daughter and ready-for-everything son made a trio. Wifey dearest was the usual timid self. NEVER – you people or mad or what – and why are you risking this…….etc. were few of her printable observations.
Then Anoop happened. Long after the embers were kindled Anoop broached this topic and told me that he was actually waiting for someone to accompany him. He too had it in him but he needed that push, pun intended. Things started to fall into place.
The last piece missing in the jigsaw was the arrival of my daughter on her holidays. But I never expected that we would all be doing this jump within a week of her arrival.
With so many butterflies fighting for space there was no way that I was going to have any breakfast on the bright sunny Sunday morning. The drive itself was under two hours and the scenery that unfolded along the way, on any normal trip, would have drawn extreme exclamation. On this day however it just rolled by, including the “hops” that we were seeing for the first time.
The madness of the place can easily be described with this simple event; I had to slow down on the last stretch before parking because there was a small biplane riding along on the road in front of me!!!!
What originally started with just the three of us jumping soon swelled to a total of seven. Wifey dearest was her usual self. Her negation continued with few more choice adjectives.
Debriefing time: the usual small lecture, pep talk, jokes that were said a few thousand times earlier, customary video where everything looked simple. All of a sudden it was time to suit up. The company “Air Hit Morava” (what a strange name) had a limited staff and the jumps were going to be two at a time.
While waiting for Anoop and Arjun to embark on the first trip, we saw few solo parachutists landing from the previous flight. The speed at which one of them came and landed very close to where we were standing sent the butterflies inside into a raging storm. Oh man! This is unreal! We have not made any payments. This was the moment to walk out. But only a fool would do that. Or may be only a fool would go ahead and actually not do it.
An old rickety tin pot which looked incapable of driving along on a road leave alone fly, loaded with about 17 people, nearly half of them thinking what in the name of dear lord were they actually doing, surprised us by really taking off! It was impossible to believe that contraption could actually fly! May be it was intended this way. Make the plane look so unsafe that the guys would actually look forward to jumping out of that contraption.
It took off; vanished in the vast sky. The usual routine of squinting the eyes and pointing at various specs, identifying them, wrongly, as our plane continued. While all of us were straining against the bright blue sky there was a sudden explosion of “Wooh Ah!” a la Al Pacino, all over and there was a burst of a series of colourful parachutes that started dotting the overhead blue canvas. Anoop came down in a wild swoosh and was screaming his lungs out. They landed smoothly, it was his ass that took the landing strip not mine, and all I could see was ONE BIG SMILE!!! More like the smile that remained when the rest of the cat vanished in Alice In Wonderland!!
Two things were realized at that instant.
<1.   People do come back alive and in one piece.
<2. If that smile is any indication – this must be done ASAP.
The ASAP had to however wait for three more trips, for the rest of the group to suit up, take off, vanish from our vision, start to appear in mushrooming explosions overhead and arrive back, drunk with excitement. Few things were common amongst all after they landed.
<1. A big freaking smile.
<2. A serious warm thank you hug to the tandem pilot.
<3.  A drunken walk back.
<4.  “My God……….”
<5.  “Awesome……….”
<6.“Brilliant……..”
I listened to everyone, with their different abilities to describe, all lost in describing the indescribable, and I saw Jiri in front of my eyes all over again. And I realized. This is not a sport. This is a drug and they are all high and I am going to be. Soon.
P G Wodehouse once said “The most meandering river also finally comes to the sea”. My long wait was also over. Time to suit up, go through the practice motions, strap up,check the harness, watch the guy preparing the parachute, more closely this time J , squeeze out a smile for the camera man. The walk to the plane.
The group had about 5 or 6 solo jumpers and 4 idiots who were latched on to their tandem pilots; their heart wedged somewhere close to the Adam’s apple. The tin box started to roll and climbed. The tandem pilots and the videographers were trying to lift your spirit and make you smile and were failing miserably. May be I should not have had that coffee! May be I should have had a smaller breakfast. May be I should have gone to the loo one more time before the jump. A thousand other “maybes”flooded along and were washed away……….
After what appeared to be an eon the pilot pointed to his altimeter to show that we were at 1500m level. And the ground below looked unreal way b………..e………..l…………..o…….w……………..
And we will exit the plane at 4000m!!!!!!!!!
3500m – time to get strapped to the tandem pilot. Here I am strapping myself to a stranger whom I met just this morning and I am handing over my life to him!!!!! And I look at the expiry date on a milk carton ten times before consuming!!!!!!!!
The ever climbing plane suddenly seemed to level out, stall, stop or whatever and one of the three lights to the right of the sliding plastic door lit up. One of the solo jumpers stood up and slid the door open. It was COLD. Really really cold. All the Second World War movies flashed in front of my eyes. Richard Burtons, Clint Eastwoods and Anthony Quinns jumped out of those planes as if they did that every morning before having their cup of morning coffee.
Two or three of them (not the actors mentioned above but the real solo jumpers) stood close to the opening, did some sort of trance like swaying movement and, Jesus H Christ, they jumped and were gone, it was out, down and whoosh……… Finito.
Mangala was dragged along and the look on her face as she looked outside was priceless. I stood there next and saw my wife falling down and vanishing out of my sight.
I stood there at the opening. Strapped to my savior for the next 10 minutes. There was a small dark rain cloud right out and below. That must have been a blessing as I did not see immediately from how far I was falling. 4000m is just a number. That becomes something when you see a point of reference. The tandem pilot howled “Banana” in my ear. That was the position I was supposed to take before exiting the plane. This was also explained. I knew. But at that moment nothing registered. I told him “No thanks”. The tandem pilot and the photographer were screaming something and we
J
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You lose sense of time. I was falling for a brief period through the cloud and once the cloud cleared I saw the ground way way way below than anything I ever imagined and we were still falling. Suddenly this guy with the camera strapped onto his helmet was in front of me – horizontally, and he was miming that I show some signals, smile and do all those things that will appear good on a photograph.
Of course I knew all of them. For those 50 seconds (the duration of the free fall) my brain went in to a stand-alone mode. It decided not to communicate with me. And I was falling. Can 50 seconds be this long? I will not waste any adjectives. It just is not possible to explain what you felt. The force of the wind against your face was brutal; it sent my skin rippling along. And I was falling and turning and falling and turning.
The tandem pilot shocked me by touching me to indicate that I rearrange my hands from the free fall position to the parachute opening position. I say he “shocked me” because in those 50 seconds of sheer ecstasy I forgot him completely!!!!
Some rearranging, a tug here and a pull there and you were lifted up from the suicidal free fall.
The change of a howling agonizing exhilarating gush of wind to a Zen like moment of calm is instant. The red and yellow parachute snapped open and you were floating without a care in the world.
I said “Petr you are great man, you are great” thirty times and I am not sure if he heard me. With a coordination that was so simple and yet so surprising the two tandem pilots managed to make me meet Mangala at about 700m from the ground. With the adrenalin dropping to levels from Completely Insane to Just Mad - we could muster a smile at each other.
After a few more tricks of circling and swaying we descended for the landing. This time there was no confusion in what the tandem pilot told me. He said “Landing position” and I stretched my legs at 90 deg and we made a smooth ass first landing and I just fell back on him allowing the collapsing parachute to drape me from the real world, just to savor the dream world a few seconds longer.
The idea of this narration is out of my usual compulsion to write everything that I experience. This has an additional motive. All you who are waiting for this to happen one day- do not waste your time.
Go. Jump.
Footnote:
My photographer came to me apologetically and showed me the empty compartment which held the video camera. On the way down, the latch opened somehow and he lost the video camera. He had two concerns
<1.That I would not have a video shoot of my fall. (He however told me the still pictures are all there, they are very good. And indeed they were impressive)
<2.What if the falling camera, like a missile, caused some injury on some innocent cyclist?
Anoop expressed my feelings better than I would have worded them myself:
“Better the camera than the jumper”