Column: Don’t wait for the boat: learn how to swim

I’ve never been a great swimmer. But I can move around the water fairly well, so
well that I often hearFlooding_3
encouraging words from people, such as “Good job,
Melvin,” “Nice movement, Melvin,” and “Melvin, I think you’re almost ready to
get out of the kiddie pool.”

I don’t want to brag, but I’m quite good at
the breaststroke, even better than I am at stroking other body parts.

If you asked me whether I’m a beginner, intermediate or advanced
swimmer, I’d have to say that I’m definitely an advanced beginner. On a scale of
one to 10, I’m a solid two.

The important thing is, I know how to float.
I’m an expert at floating. I can do it for several hours at a time, as long as
there’s no leak in the raft.

If it happens to be leaking … well, then I
can probably stay afloat by myself for an hour or two. I’m not likely to drown
in a body of water, unless there’s a strong current, unless someone drops the
radio in. But that’s electrocution, not drowning.

Swimming is a vital skill, as I’m constantly reminded when I read the news.
Almost every day, there’s a story of drowning. People drown in all kinds of
ways: some fall out of boats, some get caught in floods, some get drunk and
think their cars are submarines.

Driver (entering ocean): “How do you
like my new submarine, dude?”

Passenger: “Submarine? Who told you this
was a submarine?”

Driver: “That’s what it’s called, dude.

Passenger: “Subaru, you idiot! It’s called a Subaru!”

Nearly 3,000 people drown every year in America alone –- and most of them are
sober. The highest drowning rate, sadly, is among children aged four and
younger. They drown in pools, bathtubs, buckets and even toilets. If you’re a
responsible parent, you’ll supervise your children whenever they’re around water
or other liquids. And if you catch them sticking objects in the toilet, you’ll
resist the temptation to say, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you use your

Knowing how to swim won’t prevent every type of drowning, but it
does reduce the risk drastically. That’s why it’s an essential skill for
everyone. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live, unless of course you’re
a bushman in the Kalahari Desert, in which case you’re probably not reading this

In certain parts of South Asia, including Bangladesh, knowing
how to swim is almost as important as knowing how to walk. You don’t need a
swimming pool to practice. You just need to stand outside and wait for the rain.

Every year, the monsoons come, and every year, there’s massive
flooding. If you’re lucky, the water reaches only your shoulders and you can
walk slowly to higher ground, carrying your TV on top of your head. If you’re
unlucky, the water is higher than your house and you find yourself sitting on a
tree, searching desperately for the most popular guy in your neighborhood –- the
one with a boat.

You: “Over here, Abdul! Please bring your boat over
here! I don’t know how to swim.”

Abdul: “Sorry, there’s not enough space
in my boat. I’ve saved Raman and his big TV.”

You: “Tell Raman to dump
his TV, so you’ll have space for me.”

Abdul: “Dump his TV? Are you
crazy? The cricket match is tonight!”

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. I can barely swim as well… nice one Melvin.

  2. Your wife says:

    Gratuitous use of the floods in South Asia that was in the news a fortnight ago, Melvin. Relaxed swimming during flooding? Maybe we should make a trip for the next monsoon season so you can practice your laps.

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