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Rediff.com  » Getahead » At 10, Tamanna Balachandran is the world's youngest scuba diver

At 10, Tamanna Balachandran is the world's youngest scuba diver

Last updated on: May 13, 2014 15:20 IST

At 10, Tamanna Balachandran is the world's youngest scuba diver

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Nithya Ramani/Rediff.com

It took Tamanna Balachandran only two days to ace the scuba diving world record.

And she is just 10 years old.

The day she turned 10 -- on April 15, 2014 -- she went diving in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Wearing denim hot pants and a green sleeveless t-shirt, Tamanna sits in our office alongside her older sister Rashi, getting ready for yet another interview.

There have been quite a few since she became the world’s youngest female qualified scuba diver certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).

Her interest in diving began with pictures and videos her cousin Prafful would show of his underwater adventures. Rashi, her older sister did an online diving certificate course and Tamanna wanted to do it too.

Tamanna's parents, Rita and Unni Balachandran, wanted to take the children diving last year but couldn't because Tamanna was too young. Upset about this, Tamanna demanded that she go diving the day she turned 10, as a birthday gift to herself.

The Balachandrans usually go on holidays with friends and their families. So this summer four families went to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

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Image: Tamanna Balachandran after setting the world record in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Photographs: Unni Balachandran

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'We didn't want to mention the record and put pressure on her'

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On the suggestion of Prafful Chugh, who is a PADI instructor, all the kids enrolled for the online certificate course that enabled them to do more than one dive.

Prafful convinced Tamanna’s parents that she should try for a world record, giving the example of Egyptian diver Natasha Turner who was 10 years and three days old when she won the title in 2010.

"We were ready for her to try, but we didn’t mention it to Tamu," said Rita Balachandran.

"We wanted her to enjoy what she had wanted to do for over a year. We didn’t want to mention the record and put pressure on her," said father Unni.

Because of her inquisitiveness, Tamanna had long learnt the theoretical aspects of diving from Rashi and then trained with Prafful to hone her underwater skills.

A student at the Vibgyor High International School, Tamanna talks like a pro about diving. 

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Image: Tamanna Balachandran in a happy mood before the training session
Photographs: Unni Balachandran

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'After the fourth dive, she wanted to go back and do it all over again'

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At the dive site, after seeing the videos during training, we were quizzed on skills like assembling and dissembling, BCD, regulator, confined water skills and underwater communications."

For the benefit of us greenhorns she explains that BCD is Buoyancy Control Device, “the jacket that you wear which helps you go lower or higher in water.

“There is a regulator and you have to breathe from it -- inhale through your mouth and exhale through your nose. It is important that you know how to swim,” explained our instructress.

The training required the children to be up at 6.30 every morning. “Tamu initially cribbed but after the fourth dive, she wanted to go back and do it all over again," said her mother.

Tamanna knew how to swim before she went to the islands. “Before you can dive you should be able to swim non-stop for 200 metres and be afloat for 10 minutes,” says Prafful who has been teaching swimming and diving in schools in Shimla for the last two years.

Tamanna and the other kids took the Bubble Maker course and Discover Scuba Diving course.

The Bubble Maker course -- a foundation course for beginners of open or confined water diving -- is done in a swimming pool where they are taught the importance of buoyancy, equalisation, pressure and its effects on the body under water and details of assembling and dissembling the diving gear.

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Image: Tamanna Balachandran taking scuba diving lessons
Photographs: Unni Balachandran

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'It looked like a ball of clay, camouflaged on the sea bed'

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Was Tamanna scared?

Not a bit. She has always been a water baby and loves everything about being underwater, says sister Rashi.

Prafful agrees: “I have trained a lot of children her age but have never come across someone who was so fearless and confident under water.

“It is quite common for children to panic when they encounter some problem. Tamanna would solve it herself though I was there to help."

Tamanna is enchanted with the underwater world and talks of the baby leopard shark she saw -- “we were scared because we thought the mother shark was close by” and the sergeant major fish -- “they are the small black and yellow striped fish. They were so beautiful. They were circling us underwater.”

“When diving with Tamanna, I saw she had amazing underwater observation skills. She has a keen eye for identifying different fish. That is something one gets with experience but she nailed it the first time,” Prafful said.

Mother Rita says Tamanna has always been quite fearless.

"She endured a lot of pain during her childhood because she met with a lot of accidents, but she always came out of it with a smile. Just last year, a car drove over her foot and she was bedridden for over a month,"

During her last dive, when she broke the world record, the other kids cheered for her, then carried her to the shore. 

"I wanted to be there when the kids came back. I knew Rashi and Tamanna would complete the certificate course but my happiness knew no bounds when Tamanna broke the world record," said Rita.

Tamanna insists that her third dive was her best, but Rashi says the fourth was her best. They had to learn sign language to communicate underwater, and made up their own sign language to describe the fish they saw.

“It looked like a ball of clay, camouflaged on the sea bed,” says Tamanna describing a scorpion fish.

MUST SEE: Tamanna trains in a swimming pool; Video: Nithya Ramani/Rediff.com

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Image: Watch Tamanna Balachandran as she undergoes training and then scuba dives in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Photographs: Unni Balachandran
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'I like diving but I don't want to become a professional diver'

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The Balachandrans said they were anxious about Tamanna’s diving but had confidence in Dive India, the group that organised the dive.   

“My parents suggested we send our daughters for other activities like singing and dancing, that are less dangerous," laughed Unni Balachandran.

Tamanna and Rashi have already planned their next vacation: the next diving season in the Lakshwadeep Islands.

“It is better to dive there. I want to see four things -- turtles, sea horses, octopus and squid,” Tamanna says.

With the PADI certificate, Tamanna can now go diving anywhere in the world.

The sisters also plan to do an advanced course in Australia to become advanced open water divers.

They want to go to the Great Barrier Reef where they plan to do five adventure dives to be certified as advanced divers.

Ten may be too young to decide on a profession, but Tamanna knows what she wants to be.

And, no. it’s not a diver.

“I want to be a veterinarian. I love animals. I love monkeys, dogs, elephants and penguins. I like diving but I don’t want to become a professional diver,” she says.

Another interest is seeing movies. “I don’t have any favourites. Every week whichever movie releases, that becomes my favourite.

“I don’t have any favourite actor. But my favourite actress is Deepika Padukone,” says the young diver who also trains in athletics, gymnastics, singing and dancing.


Image: Tamanna Balachandran with her trainer Prafull Chugh
Photographs: Unni Balachandran

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