It is intense. You feel you are back in your mother’s womb, a free-floating object protectively cushioned by fluids, savouring the stillness, the silence, the weightlessness...
These, ladies and gentlemen, are not the words of a lost soul tripping on a large dose of some particularly potent intoxicant, but Umeed Mistry’s (graphic) description of an uneventful day at work.
The lucky man.
A partner with Indian leisure diving company Lacadives, founded by adman Prahlad Kakkar, Mistry tends to get a little poetic (and sometimes philosophical) when talking about his job.
It was in Class X that Mistry got hooked to what was to become his passion and lead to a career. On a holiday to the Maldives, where he had just “intended to do a little bit of snorkelling”, he signed up for the introductory diving classes at the restort where his family was staying. The first dive took him one metre down, and was meant to get him used to spending some time underwater and get comfortable with the SCUBA gear. What came next was strange. “We dived six metres and immediately I had a very strong connection. I felt this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was one of the most strong and life-changing experiences I had and everything I did revolved around it afterwards,” says Mistry. That essentially means he studied oceanography and marine biology in college and university and then started training as a diver, getting a CMAS one-star certification (beginner’s level) in Maldives and then doing the CMAS two-star course with Lacadives at Kadmat in Lakshadweep before switching to PADI and completing a dive master’s course in 2001–02 in Indonesia.
Like Mistry, his buddy and co-partner at Lacadives, Sumer Verma, too, got heavily into diving while on a holiday in Lakshadweep. Then an assistant in Prahlad Kakkar’s production team in 1995-96, Verma fell in love with the vivid blue crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean when he got off the boat at Lakshadweep (from Cochin) and later decided to train as a diving instructor.
You need certifications to become a diver. As part of basic training, says Verma, “beginners are taken by the instructors a few metres down for their first taste of diving. Those getting a CMAS (Confederation Mondiale Des Activites Subaquatiques – World Underwater Federation) certification do a one-star course for the first level.” They are trained to be self-sufficient in the water and equipped with all the practical skills to be safe and understand the dangers they can be exposed to while diving. Then they do the two-star course to be rescue divers; and then a three-star course to be dive masters. About a 100 dives have to be logged before one can apply for an instructor’s course. For a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certificate, trainees start with an open-water course, a five-day programme as per which they have four to five sessions in confined water and four to five more in open water at 30-metre depths, and then write a test. Getting an open water licence means they are certified divers. This licence is recognised anywhere in the world and they will be allowed to participate and dive within certain confines. One can also do a rescue diver’s course and then apply for a dive master’s (assistant to instructor) programme.
According to Mistry, the theory part of the training (different at every level) involves understanding the basic physics of what happens to human beings/diving equipment under water.
“One should know what happens to the body when the pressure increases, how one reacts to the diving apparatus, understanding how the equipment functions. Advanced levels again deal with physics and first aid and rescuing and more detailed theoretical understanding of how equipment functions,” he adds.
Can this career sustain people in the long term? Verma and Mistry, who are also into underwater photography in a big way, think so. Both are also doing their bit to create awareness of marine life and coral reefs in the coastal zones.
“At Lacadives, we’re working hard to ensure this business gets bigger and better,” says Verma.
Also, though the diving season lasts from October to May, people like Ventakesh Charloo, who runs Barracuda, India’s only five-star PADI certified centre, find work all year round. When I call him, Charloo is busy somewhere in the Red Sea on a seven-day boat diving trip for advanced divers. He’s then visiting a resort near Marsa Alam for a week for more training before leaving for Egypt for taking another course.
What’s it about?
A diving instructor is someone who trains people to dive and stay under water. Certifications are a must to qualify as divers and instructors. Agencies that can help are: Professional Association of Diving Instructors (www.padi.com); British Sub Aqua Club (www.bsac.com); National Association of Underwater Instructors (www.naui.org); Scuba Schools International (www.divessi.com); Confederation Mondiale Des Activities (www.cmas2000.org)
6.30 am: Go to the dive shop
7.30 am: Load up the boats with equipment
9.30 am: Start dives — do two dives with one-hour mandatory rest
2.30 pm: Back to dive shop
3.00 pm: Clean and service dive equipment and keep it ready for the next day
4.30 pm: To the hotels for training wannabe divers to swim underwater
The diving season lasts seven months, from October to April.
In countries like Thailand or the Philippines, however, one can remain employed for 12 months.
An instructor can be paid anything from Rs20,000 to Rs40,000 a month, plus free food and good accommodation. Big tips can come in from grateful diving students
. High level of skills as a mature diver you have to be well-prepared where your lessons are concerned
. Lots of patience. You are dealing with people who could be afraid of drowning, darkness, and sea creatures
. Knowledge of marine life so you can point it out to people/your students when you take them diving
How do i get there?
To become a SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diver, one requires interational certification. Once you start diving, you can slowly add points and proceed to instructor level. You get certifications from PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), based in SantaClara, California, USA); BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club), NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors), SSI (Scuba Schools International), and CMAS (French Diving Federation)
Pros & Cons
You enjoy a great lifestyle — the best of accommodation (probably on the beach) with free food and work in some of the most beautiful places on this planet
You have a select and exclusive clientele — people from all parts of the globe and sometimes strike up great friendships
There could be an element of risk attached. You are training people in the seas and oceans — not a very safe environment
The diving season in India lasts from May to October, so you could be without work at times
1 million people learn to dive every year
An instructor talks about the days when hardly anyone knew anything about diving in India
How did you get started in this business?
It was in 1997 and I was 20 years old. I have very clear memories of making that trip from Cochin to Lakshadweep and then not being able to believe how deep blue and crystal clear the waters were. Memories of those brilliant colours stayed on with me and I decided to get into diving seriously. I did a standard course – the basic CMAS underwater programme Lacadives offered at that time, for beginners. Then I came back again for more and made a few trips up and down to the islands and in 1998 decided to do a rescue diving course and spend some more time on the islands.
And the first time that you took someone diving — as an instructor?
You have to earn your instructor’s licence to do that. I did a rescue diver’s course in 1999 in Mauritius and then a dive master’s course. In 2000, we at Lacadives launched the first instructor’s course in Bangaram in Lakshadweep. It was the first CMAS course in India (PADI had not come in at that time). We used to consider ourselves kachcha nimboos (unripe lemons) at that time since hardly anyone was doing diving. In fact, I had done about 350-400 dives by the time I became an instructor.
What’s life like for a diver in India?
You are working six-seven months a year during the diving season. The industry too is growing at a phenomenal pace with one million people learning diving every year. In India, in 1997, we (Lacadives) were the only people who taught diving, and now there are about 22 dive shops in Goa, Mangalore, Pondicherry, Mumbai, the Andamans and Lakshadweep. One can choose to work in these dive shops and also make money by getting commission for every diving equipment one sells. You also have a great lifestyle, free food, boarding and lodging (probably a house on the beach) and quality clients.
I remember one of my first students, a European guy who was very comfortable with what we taught him. It was very easy to teach him diving and both he and I enjoyed the five-day course. It has usually been smooth sailing for me. I have never been overwhelmed by my duties as an instructor. Oh yes, but there was a time when my parents came to learn. Both are in their mid-sixties and I was their instructor. They were not comfortable and had preconceived fears and even I was edgy and irritable with them. In retrospect, after 10 years of training I am able to be much more patient and my teaching has become much more streamlined and better.
Sumer Verma Interviewed by Ayesha Banerjee