When we first met in Dolphin Offshore's Belapur office, saturation diver Arjun Shetty's T-shirt declared: "I'm sotally tober."
At our next meeting at his Dombivli home, his red tee said: "I fear no beer."
His favourite one, though, reads: "I'm not drunk, I'm chemically off balance."
This 24-year-old has had this for five years, almost as long as he has been working.
If you work under water for 28 days at a stretch on eight-hour shifts, it is possible to identify with the fish and perhaps to even drink like one. "We divers do drink a bit," Shetty said impishly. "But at work, I have to be totally sober and very alert."
Three hundred feet under water, hanging by the umbilical cord that supplies essentials like the gases one breathes and the communication links, one does not take chances. Regardless of how much or how well one trains, ultimately one has to think on one's feet, fins to be accurate.
Shetty is in a profession few know of. Hence, if you meet Shetty at a party, he is likely to say is an interior designer or a salesman. Why? "If I mention diving, they ask which car I drive. Explaining saturation diving is time-consuming. I opt for the easy way," he said.
Shetty dives in deep seas to check the oil rigs, platforms, ships or whatever else is underwater and needs repair and maintenance. When a field engineer spots a fault in the rig/platform, divers like Shetty fix it for him by making structural modifications according to instruction. In short, Shetty is the arm of the engineers and the diving supervisor on board the ship.
Sounds like child's play for those who love to swim or dive, right? Far from it, when you realise the elaborate preparation that goes into the seemingly simple repair and maintenance procedure.
Shetty's team comprises six or nine divers, a mechanical and an electrical technician, a diving supervisor and a superintendent. At ground level, the atmospheric pressure on the body is one. It rises by one bar every 10 metres under sea. Hence, when a diver like Shetty is 50 metres under sea, the pressure on the body will be six bars.
If the pressure on the body rises suddenly, the blood vessels would burst. Shetty's body has to be acclimatised to the pressure he'd be exposed to. So he is placed in a sealed saturation or 'sat' chamber and gradually pressure is increased to match pressure at the level he would be diving to. This can take up to two or three days.
Shetty must stay put in this chamber - a capsule structure comprising a sleeping/living area and the other with a shower and toilet - sometimes nearly a month.
His only eight-hour outing is in the bell, a lift of sorts, which lowers him to point where work awaits him. The 10-kg diver's cap supplies him with the right mix of gases to keep his blood chemistry in balance, and communication link with the crew on board.
"We work alone for eight hours, sometimes in a zero-vision environment. Being a loner helps but one also has to be a good team player," said Shetty. Once under water, his only contact with the world is the team of technicians, superintendent and supervisor who monitor him every single minute. This is his lifeline. He must trust them implicitly.
His mother Yashoda, a homemaker, pushed her only child to coach in swimming to wean him off television. He inherited his father Dr Haresh Shetty's passion for sports and represented his school, Vidya Niketan in Dombivli East, and Maharashtra state in swimming.
Barely 18 and inspired by the images in the Animal Planet, Shetty decided to be a diver. "The myth was shattered in my first job," recalled Shetty. But it also fetched him his first pay cheque of Rs 17,000. In 2002, with a little help from a benevolent uncle, Shetty did his first air-diving course from Underwater Centre in Scotland. Four years later, when he enrolled for the saturation diving course that cost nearly Rs 10 lakh, he didn't need any help.
The long periods of separation from terra firma, from family and friends, changed Shetty. "I got to know myself. I feel I grew up much before my contemporaries," he said. "My receding hairline reminds me of that."
He used to have a tough time holding on to friends when he was younger. That changed in the last five years since he has been diving. "We have a group of six very close friends outside of my work. It is a group where I can be myself," he said. "We go out for long drives, holidays abroad. Or just chill." He has visited 15 countries on business and leisure.
Shetty will not say how much he makes, but says it is no small change. How has the money helped? "I don't ask anybody for anything I want." What was the most extravagant splurge for him? "The Casio G-shock watch I bought five years ago. It cost me a bomb then. The prices have fallen since but it is my favourite splurge."
What else does he want to splurge on? "I don't know if this will ever happen. But if one day, I can afford it, I'd like to make a space trip."