Recalling My Own Aquatic Skills Growing Up in My Village in Gujarat

By Harilal Patel, Monroeville, PA

Editor’s note:  Mr.  Harilal Patel, a long-time and successful entrepreneur in our area, is also active in the Pittsburgh Gujarati Samaj and the Hindu-Jain Temple. In 1978 he displayed his aquatic skills at the Three River Regatta by swimming across the Allegheny River from the North Side to Point State Park.

The story in the last issue on our instincts to display our skills in front of the public brought memories of my own younger days. Like Todittalai Vizhuttandinaar recalling the aquatic skills of his young days in his 2000-year old Tamil poem, I too remember my own younger days growing up in Valam, a large village with a long history, in Mehsana District, 50 miles north of Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

We had — and still have — a large talaab (lake) approximately 0.7 mile wide when it is full after the monsoon, with water 50 feet deep at several spots. One side of the lake had four large ghats for people to bathe. The opposite side was for buffaloes, cows, goats, and camels for their water needs. Around the talaab, we had a hospital, and rows of jamun, mango, and tamarind trees. And three temples.

Taking the deity across the talaab while swimming.

Summertime drew us to the talaab, not just for bathing, but also for displaying our swimming skills. Competition among us was keen. Holding our breath and staying under water for the longest period was a game we reveled in. The daring among us swam to the deepest spots. Like the Tamil poet Vizhuttandinaar, we would reach the bottom of the talaab and come out with a fistful of gravel as proof that we had reached the bottom.

During August-September the village celebrated a festival with over 100 skilled swimmers carrying, while swimming, a palki (palanquin) with the deity (Krishna) across the talaab, with hundreds of villagers admiringly watching from the banks. The event ended with people carrying the palki in a procession into the village while chanting Bhajans.  ∎ — END


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