From Here to Eternity
Literally. That's what it was. A journey from here to eternity. In addition to which, it will accompany me on my own journey from here to eternity..... (Don't mind if I'm starting to sound like a C++ recursive function call)
Strangely enough, I was the calmest through the trip to the airfield. Bored even - that drive lasted 3 damned hours, and when we got there we had to fill forms for an hour and wait for two more. Aurv and Srutesh went first. Both were a bit wobbly going, and considerably more than shell shocked coming back (Grinning from ear to ear though). Jeroen was quite uncomfortable as we boarded. I alone smiled, and straight into the camera (I'll get into that later). Eric, the pro I was in tandem with, backslapped me heartily as we got on. Even as the wrist dial started to go wild I was collected.
About the time it hit 16 they opened the door. A certain twinge of unease occured as people began to disappear into the void outside. But courage, Arun, courage - I told myself. Imagine Amma encouraging you to have adventures. And Appa's expression if you told him 170 dollars went to no use.
I did what they said, facing the door. Rock back and forth squatting. Arms crossed and folded. 5..4...3..2..it wasn't till we jumped right out the plane that the first "Naaaaaraaaaayanaaaaaa ......." escaped
The first sensation was cold. It was cold at 16000 feet, up above the clouds. Then came the wail of the wind in the ears. And the realization that it was wailing because you were whizzing down. From 16000 feet. Wierdly though, this wasn't the scariest part. For starters, I suppose there's no mystery in what's going to happen if you impact the ground from that height. Also, you can wierdly do turns and twists (even in tandem) in the air. Pretend you're Superman till the ground proves you otherwise.
That damned cameraman was hovering with us, grinning all the way. He signalled for me to smile, grabbing my hand as he hovered up. For God's sake, man. I'm falling down. Let me fall in peace. Oh all right, here's your damned smile for the camera. Grin from ear to ear with my cheeks flapping in the wind - not a bad thing to do before getting smashed to a thousand bits.
The altimeter was merrily climbing down. As it neared 5, Eric nudged me. At 5, wind screaming and all, I pulled the cord he told me to pull, "Narayanaaaaaa"ing all the way.
Silence. Suddenly the air's not screaming. The ground's a lot closer, but not charging at you like a paparazzi at Angelina Jolie. I can talk again. And am upright (head towards the sky and feet towards the ground) again. Whew. If only there was something for my feet stand on.
Eric pointed out the sun, now red, in the distance. "No sunset like one at 4000 feet" Amazing sight, considering that for people on the ground it's probably over the horizon. It would probably be possible to see the shadows lengthen on the ground with binoculars or something. The sights at this point were, to say the least, unbelievable.
This leg of the journey however proved to be the real challenge. For starters, the harness needed some adjustment (as a matter of routine) and Eric actually undid a couple of clips in the air. Not reassuring, to say the least. Also, he wore the parachute. So while we were what's-mine- is-yours with the acceleration towards the ground, the parachute belonged to him (In the Resnick and Halliday fbd mechanics sense). I was attached to Eric through the harness, and so was held up, but the result was like being hung off a hook. Damned uncomfortable. Specially when the hook went under and between your thighs.
That adjustment thing actually made we wobbly and I asked Eric if I was attached right. He told me, if I weren't, we'd be a hundred feet apart already. Gallows humour. There's no beating it.
The parachute needed guidance. Pulling on two additional cords turned us in the air. Soon we were gliding more than falling, and at one point we began turning circles in the air, spiralling downwards.
I can't explain why, but the queasiest quease (No other word for it) hit my stomach and covered me in a panic. Suddenly, I felt it would be OK if I only were free of the parachute. If I kicked and screamed and struggled. I had to get rid of the harness. The thing feels like a bad dream now, but it felt then like the only way out of one.
I suppose having my hands on the separated taught cords gave me some control (in that I was restrained). I asked Eric to cut out the turning "It's making me sick, man" I said. He stopped the spiral immediately.
The descent was more diagonal now. And steadier. The ground was looking a lot clearer. There were stalks visible where there was just an expanse of green. And wasn't that white cubical building a spot a minute ago?
"When I tell you to, kick your legs out" Eric said. "Sure" I replied. We were picking up a bit of speed, and the downward motion was clearer. The altimeter was somewhere between 1 and 0, and nearing the latter. At about (I found out later) 50 feet he said "Now". I kicked out and gave my abs the toughest workout they had. I found out why as we sailed to ground, reaching it while moving horizontally. Had I not kicked out, the impact would have broken an ankle at least. As it were, I took the impact on the old gluteus maximus, glad for once to have been relaxed with recent diets. Funny, 16000 feet and you land on your synonym-for-a-donkey. Hell of a way down. I got up, mouthing holy names of Vishnu and truly unholy profanities in the same breath. In that frame of mind, it matters more that you say something, than what you say.
Eric later told me the queasiness was due to my persistent looking down at the ground. "When you're up there, look around you. Look at the ground and you're head'll spin" Verily, a profound lesson - don't be distracted by the memories of Earth, when sampling the joys of Heaven.