The Indian Mermaid – Swimming towards myself

Sangeeta Pillai writer and founder of the South Asian female power platform, creator of Masala Monologues® and the  Masala Podcast came to me for swimming lessons a few years ago. 

I asked her to write a piece for my blog about her experiences. She kindly agreed.  Here it is. 


Trauma. A small word with the biggest impact on my life. I was born into a traditional Indian family, where being female was a life-long sentence. My earliest memories are of my mother being battered on a nightly basis, my father being a drunk, scary monster and me being a terrified, cowering young girl.

Trauma is in my DNA, in my breath, in my body. It dictates how I function, jumping at every loud sound or raised male voice. It is this silent yet all-powerful beast, stalking me for most of my 46 years on this planet. Yet I wasn’t aware of its existence until two years ago. I’ve been battling to take back “control” of myself, but trauma…she won’t let me go.

Except when I’m in water. You see, in water I’m weightless. Nothing holds me down. Floating. Darting. Moving. Lady Trauma can’t get her hands on me there.

It’s the strangest sensation, swimming. Or rather learning to swim. I’ve been trying to learn for the past 20 years or so. Utterly unsuccessfully.

Because trauma make it very difficult. Every time my head is in water, Lady Trauma tells me that I’m going to die. Each time I find myself surrounded by water, each time my feet can’t feel the ground, she convinces me this is the end. So my body responds as it has learnt to do during all the violence of my childhood. My body freezes. Panics. Heart racing. Breathless.

I’ve finally found a teacher, the lovely Jane, who seems to instinctively understand my panic. And she works with it, rather than pooh-poohing it like every other swimming teacher has done so far.

Jane talks about moving in water, dancing in water. She talks about letting the water take me, heal me. I love the sound of letting the water hold me and heal me.

I know this isn’t going to be easy. Jane & I have been teaching my body and mind to be in water. And I can now do that without believing it’s going to kill me within seconds. And that’s huge progress.

I remember the first time I swam the entire length of the small pool. It felt unreal, like an out of body experience.

I have started to move in the water, swim even. But I can’t seem to figure out the rhythm of swimming and then coming out for breath. You see, holding my breath in fear is what I have done my entire life. I watch all the other swimmers in the pool, they seem to do it so effortlessly. To me, it feels like figuring out rocket science.

But, but…here’s the best bit. Thanks to Jane, my body has started to love the feeling of being in water. I’m fluid like some languid sea creature, effortlessly slicing through water, splashing around with joy.

Like an Indian mermaid finally at peace, deep in the ocean floor. The world of pain and panic high above her, not really touching her.

One day, I will swim properly. I will emerge for breath from under water, like everyone else. I will swim in the Arabian sea, maybe off the beach in Goa. I will feel the salt on my skin, the sun on my body. I will be free.

Until then, I will let the water hold me…heal me a tiny bit each time.

3 thoughts on “The Indian Mermaid – Swimming towards myself

  1. Dear Jane,Having read the recent blog below, I would be grateful for your advice and assistance in helping me to learn how to swim please. I’m 51 and like to keep fit. I run, go to the gym and would like to learn to swim.I had lessons as a child and managed 10 metres but then I lapsed. I attended a week long swimming school a few years ago and whilst I was able to swim with a buoyancy aid, I was unsuccessful without. Basically my top-half wanted to swim but when I started to try and swim my legs didn’t rise quick enough for me and I panicked and stopped. I’m starting a career break in 3 weeks to do some travelling and was looking to have some swimming lessons when I  return in February. Do you think you could help me (fully understand if not)? I’m based in Croydon and believe you’re based in Twickenham, which I’m happy to travel to. If you’re able to help, how much would it be please and how would the frequency of the lessons work? I don’t plan to be working so could do lessons during the day and could potentially do a block of lessons everyday, for a week or two, if that helps. If you’re unable to help, is there anyone else you could recommend? I look forward to hearing from you soon. My mobile number is 07798 730742 if you’d prefer to call me. Kind regards Linda Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  2. Dear Jane,

    You may recall my email below in which you then kindly telephoned me to discuss further. As I wasn’t looking to start swimming lessons until February, you advised me to contact you nearer the time. My plans have slightly changed and I’m now free to start lessons next month. Is this possible for you? Apart from 15 – 22 Jan, I’m available anytime during the week and weekends (day and evening) and happy to travel to attend lessons. If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Kind regards,

    Linda (07798 730742)

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