Swimming Pool by Anannya Dasgupta

Standing lightly on the granite edge of the pool, body curled over his bent knees, he pushed against his legs working up a slight bounce before flinging himself into the water. His arms cut through the turquoise surface in a clear splash as his head and body followed in rapid, neat alignment. Sitha Ramesh Swaminathan, diamond studded, kanjivarammed, totally out of place at the poolside, followed his bobbing head, angled elbows, and the rhythmic beating of his heels all the way to the far end. She held him in steady gaze as he flipped to return – a train on rails, a fish few inches evenly below the surface. She couldn’t keep her eyes off that glistening back caught in the fading sunlight, gliding through the water with such perfection that the clumsy splashing about of most other people in the pool didn’t lead her gaze astray for a second.


The sun was beginning to set on the HUDA city gymkhana pool. At that time of the evening, the sun melts golden on the surface of the water and ripples out on the black granite. The upside down reflection of trees, lamp posts and people walking by the poolside quiver distractedly with every fresh wave of water overflowing into the gutters along the pool. Though Sitha couldn’t see it, the deep orange and rust of her silk sari was reflected so distinctly on the black granite that set amongst the trees it made a mobile impressionist tableau. The strap of her maroon leather purse lay across her lap, her hands rested on top of it with fingers firmly interlaced. The pleats of the sari fell gracefully over her legs and her beautiful feet, planted firmly on the ground, peeped beneath it. Sitha took pride in her feet. The long shapely toes, curled slightly into her black leather slippers, were studded with silver toe rings that shone perfectly against her ebony smooth skin.


‘Amma!’ Sathya’s voice rang clearly over the sounds of splashing water and the smell of chlorine. Flushed, Sitha looked away to see her six-year-old son and her husband, Ramesh, emerge from the furthest lane of the pool. His body hair dripping water, he stopped to pick up the kickboard he was using to teach Sathya, as the boy ran to his mother. ‘I did one whole lap by myself, did you see,’ he bragged excitedly. Sitha grabbed the towel that was hanging on the back of her chair and started drying his hair; ‘Yes, I saw that’.


Ramesh knew that he didn’t make a flattering picture in his wet swimming trunks and his protruding paunch. Self-consciously sucking in his stomach a little, he looked at his wife and son as he walked towards them with deliberate slowness brought on by an unexplained dread. By the time he caught up to them, Sitha had already dried the boy’s hair and was holding out the dry clothes for him. Ramesh dropped the board and tube next to her, ‘Why bother drying his hair before he showers? Let’s go Sathya.’ He took the clothes hoping to catch her eye, but she didn’t look at him.


As the two of them walked away towards the showers, Sitha turned to look out for the swimmer. She wasn’t expecting to see him at the pool’s edge, rested on his upper arms; his goggles were stretched on his forehead and he was listening intently to a slim-waisted girl sitting on the edge with her feet dangling in the water. She was telling him something in rapid Hindi. He has really long eyelashes Sitha noted. Drops of water stood tantalisingly on his muscular arms. Becoming aware of her gaze, he looked at her. Embarrassed Sitha looked away, pretending to survey the Gurgaon high rises that surrounded the pool from the outside. After a few seconds she peered from the corner of her eye to see that both the boy and the girl were no longer at the edge and had gone back to swimming. Relieved, she got up and strolled along the length of the pool waiting for Ramesh and Sathya to be done with their shower. But she couldn’t get the muscular swimmer out of her mind. She had a vision of him hoisting himself out of the pool drenched, dripping all over her feet and looking at her unapologetically. She adjusted the pallu of her sari and drew it around her shoulder and draped herself though it was much too warm.


Ramesh turned on the air conditioner as he backed out of the parking lot, ‘Sathya don’t block my view, son’. ‘Are we going to the wedding right away?’ Sathya asked hugging the back of Ramesh’s seat. As he looked at his mother fixing her dangling gold earrings and adjusting her necklace, he asked, ‘Appa aren’t you coming to the wedding also?’ ‘No son’, Ramesh replied; stopping himself from making up an excuse, he left it at that. Speeding on the highway towards Delhi, neither Sitha nor Ramesh spoke except to occasionally respond to Sathya’s questions.


Ramesh knew he was being churlish in refusing to go to Sitha’s first cousin’s wedding, but he didn’t care. The argument from the night before was still rankling him. Why wouldn’t she see that it was important for him to visit home in the few days of holidays that were coming up? Their driver’s unexpected announcement that he was not going to be available for the next few days gave him the chance to get back at her. He insisted that not only would he not disturb his evening swim routine but that he’d only drop Sitha off to the wedding directly from the gymkhana so that she was forced to go all decked up to the pool. Sitha had sat calmly by the pool apparently not minding the stares she invited. In fact she barely even looked at him the whole time they were there. It irritated him even more, but now for the first time he felt a little frightened. He was afraid of the ease with which she seemed to belong to the world he struggled to fit into.


It was not so long ago that they had clung to each other overwhelmed by the newness and the exaggerated bigness of everything in Gurgaon. This move was the reward of Ramesh’s career advancement. As the new Vice-President of the start up with evidently good prospects, the move from Mysore to Gurgaon had completely changed how they lived, where they lived and what they did. In Mysore their life changed in ways that had met their aspirations but had kept them connected to their life and upbringing in Tirunelaveli, but the move to Gurgaon had completely disoriented Ramesh’s emotional geography. The arid landscape of unfeeling buildings had seeped so far into his consciousness that he would wake up dreaming of being swallowed in the green of acres of soothing paddy. Swimming in the chlorine saturated, unnaturally blue pool made him long deeply for the sweet water tributaries of the Tamiraparni. He would tell Sathya stories of his boyhood that were always so full of vivid colours and lush with such smells of vegetation that sometimes he wondered if he had made up all of it altogether. He’d ask Sitha to corroborate his memories sometimes; she grew up there too in a neighbourhood not far from his. Her older brother, Chari, was his boyhood friend and when Ramesh’s match was arranged it was like welcoming Sitha into an extension of her own family. More beautiful than he had imagined anyone he’d be with and not very talkative, Ramesh felt he had done well for himself and done right by his mother. His time spent away to study and then work felt like bearable pauses between being where he really wanted to be.


Sitha, though shy and demurring, had a streak of ambition that took him by surprise.  Until quite recently he drew his resolve from her. Left to himself, he would be happy returning to Tirunelveli to live in his ancestral house reading, writing and taking long walks through paddy fields, he’d tell himself. She encouraged him to leave his IT job in Mysore, file his software patents and get into a partnership with Chari on the start up. Ramesh was not averse to any of this; it fed into his latent desires, but over time not so much gratitude but  resentment was replacing his inability to articulate graciously the role she was playing in the rapid changes of his life.


Waiting behind a line of expensive, impatient cars, Ramesh fidgeted with the air conditioner, adjusted the rear view mirror and frequently craned his neck to check on Sathya. Sitha, her head resting in a tilt to turn her gaze to her side of the window, looked ahead. Past the tollbooth, past the neon strip of hotels by the airport, the highway took them into thicker and thicker traffic as their car moved like sludge, a shiny coin on a slow grey conveyor belt. Inside the car, Sathya sensing the tension between his parents had simmered down. Ramesh drove in cold discomfort as Sitha sat apart in inscrutable composure.


‘Should I pick you up in two hours then?’ Ramesh said in a conciliatory tone, cracking under the unbearable strain of the distance that Sitha could put between them so easily. His annoyance turned to panic as he took the turn into Vasant Vihar, only minutes away from the venue. Before Sitha had a chance to respond, he quickly added: ‘I can extend my next work trip to Mysore by two days and go see my mother then. We can go to Goa for the holidays, if you want.’ Ramesh pulled up the car in front of a large temple; the street lined in twinkling lights led up to the busy steps of the banquet hall.


Sitha turned her head fully to look at Ramesh for the first time that day and smiled. Sathya had got up and laid his head expectantly on her shoulder, she patted his cheek and said, ‘Won’t you like to swim in a real ocean Sathya?’



Anannya Dasgupta
teaches writing and literature of the British Renaissance at Shiv Nadar University. She is also a photographer and a poet. Her first book of poems Between Sure Places is forthcoming in 2015.