Swinging from the skyscraper


It is very lonely up at the top. Very lonely. I can assure you of that. And unlike my life in the shark-infested world of business, it is scary. Angina generating scary.

On a pleasant sail in the tropics a bunch of us were living the life. I would call it a gourmet experience. Everything was so delectable, right down to the company if I may add, perfect and of the highest refinement. Bubbly would escape from our glasses and gently spill over on the polished deck once in a while as a big wave would roll beneath us, gently bobbing the huge boat from side to side, letting out a wooden creaking sound that reminded me of happy days and nights spent lazing on many boats. Just as I was about to dig into my third sushi platter, the wind dies. A mild calm sets in. The boat slows, the cobalt waters appear to shimmer more.

After what seems like a long calm, and a quiet while, glances are exchanged. My friend looks up from his book, looks up at the sky, and looks around the horizon. I follow his every move keenly, mouth slightly agape, soaking in his sailing experience. A crew member materializes, and looks at my friend. He nods and goes back to his book.  The crew member starts preparing to climb the mast. I place my chopsticks by the side of my plate and get up and observe him enthusiastically as he shimmies up the mast.

“What’s he doing” I say. My friend tells me that the man is about to unfurl the skyscraper.

‘Skyscraper?’ I repeat, trying to sound informed. Isn’t that a term normally associated with land I think to myself. Before I could begin the question, he was already giving me the answer.  He knows I’ve got an irritatingly inquisitive bent of mind.

“It’s a triangular sail set above the skysail, to maximize the advantage of a light favorable wind, or to catch wind when things turn a little calm. It often is the highest ‘used’ sail on a ship”, he said. For once I didn’t appear foxed at all this sailing English.

I volunteer to go up there and try doing it. “It looks simple” I tell him. He smiles. And if I were to review that smile in hindsight I would say that it had the look ‘idiot’ written all over it.

So there I was, high up on the mast, all my army style work out regimen paying off, I did the climb with the ease and aplomb of a pro sailor.

I looked good until the first gentle swell rode under the boat. I was admiring the view. Cobalt waters shimmering with golden dust and a million other pretty reflections. When the boat tilted and I, lonely on the top, was swung to one side, with nothing underneath me, nothing but a deep fall on the polished deck below to look forward too. I hung on tighter. I said a prayer. I looked down again. Watched the deck far below swim past me as I swung to the other side. It was then when the fear kicked in.

If you think bungee jumping sets your pulse racing, then being at the Skyscraper was the equivalent of extreme death sport for me. A horizontal version, a wild swing-at-the-mercy-of-nature version, a version that ends only when the sea decides to be still. And didn’t someone try stopping the waves in some legendary tale that we all read about when we were young?

I was flung left yet again. And my weight at that height had a multiplier effect on the distance the mast would travel, and then it would swing back to the other side, propelling me as far out on the water as before. And so on and so forth. And so on for what seemed like a long time. And I tried valiantly to unfurl the Skyscraper but another gentle wave would send me over the water again.

And then the sushi factor added a new turn to events. It combined with the alcohol … and a storm brewed and bubbled inside my stomach and added to the roller coaster ride. So there I was, being flung around, both inside and out. And all the water swirling around me was no help at all because my bladder wanted to get into the act too. I clasped my legs around the mast rather tightly. Ouch! Uh huh, not good.

I looked down, mostly in fear and partly to gauge how the other people were viewing this spectacle, wondering whether behind their calm exteriors, they were laughing inside, when I caught my friend’s smile, and it suggested that I descend speedily before his polished guests get sprayed with unmentionables. No, the suntanned goddess with the bronze bikini who I fancied wouldn’t want to begin a relationship with a thrower upper like me.

I scurry down, still looking good I think, and the safety of something solid under my feet quickly brought my galloping pulse to normal and the colour came back to my face. I grabbed a drink and thought to my self, surely there has to be a moral in this somewhere.

And as I turned to saunter over to the bronzed wonder, my confidence restored, it came to me. Yes, I’d take pleasure over pain anytime. And the Skyscrapers be damned.

India Boating, March 07

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