Ahead of me the land stretches out vast and flat. The unusual grey-white mud underfoot is as smooth as a playing field. As I step into the harness and tighten it around my chest and legs, I notice the Aravallis rising, like a blue wall, in the distance. Around us—a mixed group of urban Indians and foreigners brought together by Escape Delhi, a company that organises imaginative trips outside of the city—a noisy gaggle of villagers has congregated. There are numerous children; there are old men in straggly beards; there are pre-pubescent girls – burdened with snot-nosed younger siblings; there is the occasional loner who just gawks at the women; and there are lots of young men atop tractors and on shiny motorbikes. The villagers, clearly, don’t have much to occupy them on this fine Sunday afternoon. Our group, intent on riding the wind, is the exciting paisa-vasool show of the weekend! Indeed, though the village of Chhapra in Sohna is only about two hours away from modern Gurgaon, it seems to live in the middle ages – even in terms of entertainment options. It wouldn’t have been surprising to learn that the men driving the tractors were charging the locals for the show.
These thoughts course through my mind as I prepare to run after the jeep, to which I am tethered, until my parasail lifts up. Suddenly, my phone rings. It’s my mother. I dare not tell her what I’m up to. The knowledge would most definitely cause her to lapse into the stress-induced asthmatic fit of the year. “Oh, I’m just out for a walk,” I lie. “I’ll call you back as soon as I’m done,” I say; as I watch one of my group members run a few steps and then take off – his parasail rising above him like a beautiful silken mushroom.
I stand there gazing up at him, and wonder about Pierre-Marcel Lemoigne (who developed the first parasail canopy back in 1961), and about how it was another 20 years before the world discovered the incredible joy of soaring through the air – while being umbilically attached to a moving vehicle.
Not to be confused with paragliding—that requires enthusiasts to enroll for courses and earn a license—parasailing is a fun activity, that requires nothing but common sense and a slight instinct for self-preservation. The person attached to the parasail is towed by a boat or a vehicle (in this case a jeep), and carried into the air by the wind. Unlike paragliding, which requires instruction, practice and skill, a parasailer only needs to relax and enjoy himself/herself; and, of course, ensure that he/she doesn’t do anything stupid in mid-air – like getting his/her hands entangled in the harness strings.
It doesn’t seem particularly frightening, though a few minuscule butterflies do flutter in my tummy when my turn approaches. Thankfully, I have no time to ponder about my nervousness. The instructor, a fast talking energetic man in Raybans, yells at the spellbound audience to step back, revs the jeep engine - and we’re off. I’ve barely run a few steps when I find myself treading air, and just like that – I’m airborne.
It’s quiet up there — 50 feet in the air — and I can hear myself think. It feels almost like an out-of-body experience. Far below me, the villagers are reduced to little pawns, and the instructor looks like he’s driving a dinky jeep. In the distance, mustard fields stretch out like a thick yellow carpet. It feels like I am being carried through the air by a giant bird, the Roc of Sinbad the sailor. It’s blissful. But all too soon the jeep halts, and the descent begins. I stiffen my legs and feel wildly exhilarated, as I glide onto the ground like a giant butterfly. So overjoyed am I that I whip out my cell phone and call my mother.
“I just parasailed for the first time,” I inform her.
“Phew, good thing I visited the temple this morning,” she responds with a laugh.
The one big takeaway from my parasailing adventure: I should always present my mother with a fait accompli! The answers are always blown’ in the wind...