Life is full of uncertainties, they say. But when you're standing at the edge of a platform that is 140 feet in the air, with a rope tied around your ankles, readying to jump, there's one absolute, unerring certainty -- the end of the world, as far as you are concerned, is here.
At least, that was the last thought in my terror-numbed mind when I acted on my decision to bungee jump.
Bungee jumping had, in fact, long been part of my 'To Do In This Lifetime' list. Until now, I'd experimented with certain adventure sports like rock climbing and white water rafting. So when Mountain Dew's makeshift Xtreme Zone at Mumbai's Juhu Beach promised a bigger adrenaline fix, I promptly reached the spot with a few friends.
The Xtreme Zone was deserted when we entered it. Did Mumbai lack adventurous souls or was Sunday afternoon too extreme a time for 'taking the plunge'? We inspected the huge crane that was dangling a cage from its massive hook. "Guys, this IS high," one of my friends whispered, awestruck. An instructor approached us. "Registration's at that counter," he said with a friendly grin. "Go on, the doctor will check you."
Doctor? Somehow, the word had an ominous ring to it. I turned to my friend, "We're still doing it, right?" "Of course," he replied with a 'I-live-on-the-edge' look. "But let's see someone else do it first."
We watched the crane smoothly lift the cage carrying an instructor and a jumper. A thick, grey cord snaked out from between the jumper's ankles and hung over the edge of the cage. When it reached the top, the jumper held on to the cage's sidebars and looked down. "Eeeeee, he's jumping," we shrieked. The jumper, though, seemed frozen. We hollered encouragement, even derisive epithets, but he wouldn't budge. Some more minutes passed. Then, the cage came down. With a sheepish expression on his face, the wannabe jumper thankfully stepped back on terra firma.
Undeterred, we went to the registration desk and signed up. "Do you get a refund if you don't jump?" I asked the person at the desk. "No," he laughed, "there's no money back policy." Fine, there was just one way down then as far as I was concerned.
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Take this seat, ma'am
'Aap match nahin dekhti?'
I stepped into the cage with the instructor and instinctively turned around. The ground was disappearing fast under my feet. Soon, I could see the tops of the palm trees that lined the beach.
"So what do you do, Leela?" I turned around to find the instructor striking up what I call 'a coffee bar conversation.' Casual questions aimed at distracting me from the crazy stunt I was hoping to pull off. But his voice seemed to be coming from far away. All I could hear was the furious rush of blood in my head.
Finally, the crane stopped and the instructor calmly said, "Hold on to your shoulder harness." I obeyed.
"Now move over to the edge." I did.
"Okay, you're ready for the jump."
I didn't move.
I was paralysed by a primitive survival instinct, convinced this was the end of Life's road. But the instructor, who'd probably seen countless re-runs of this scene, knew what to do. He calmly but firmly repeated his instructions.
I took a deep breath. Suddenly, I found I could move. Okay, I told myself, don't chicken out now; let's do this. I leaned back out of the cage. I could hear screams from far below. Even as I stepped out of the cage, I heard the instructor's last words. "Enjoy your jump!" he said.
I had thought my life was going to flash before my eyes. Actually, it was more like a blur.
I opened my mouth to scream, but my heart had leapt to my throat; I couldn't even squeak! Terror had wiped my mind clean of thought. This then was how it felt to face certain death.
Despite the action, Time seemed to have stood still. After what seemed like an age, I felt the rope pull against my ankles. Now I understood the reason for the padded harness; I hardly felt the jerk. Whew!
The next moment, the springy rope yanked me halfway back. Just when it felt like the rope was going to get entangled between my feet, gravity intervened and pulled me down again. This time, I raced towards the ground spinning. Flashes of green were moving in wild circles. It was the palm trees, I realised in a moment of lucidity!
I was beginning to spin more slowly; now, I could see the foam-flecked beach, the setting sun, my friends cheering... Exhilaration kicked in. I was still swinging back and forth wildly. But now it felt so good. I took my hands off the harness and let them hang in the air. The throttled scream finally came out as a victorious whoop. "More... more," I wanted to cry out.
The crane lowered me gently to the ground. The instructor smiled at me. "How was it?" he asked. My hands were shaking, my legs were jelly and my blood was drumming a wild rhythm in my head. "Awesome," I managed to croak in reply.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier