“So, what was your single greatest learning from this adventure?” I asked Abhishek. He was driving me from the Sydney ashram to my hotel room.
As someone who has weathered life for decades, you might look at the tall and handsome 24-yr-old Abhishek Malik and think to yourself that maybe once when you were young, you were also like him — bindaas kinds. I can tell you, nothing perhaps could be further from the truth.
I have known Abhishek ever since he was just four years old. I’ve seen him grow. In fact, I’ve even played video games with him. His quiet manner veils his intelligence and individuality. Naturally, it was not just heartbreaking but deeply unsettling when three years ago he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. It was nothing, just a small blister, which the damn thing wasn’t. It doubled in size in a matter of two weeks, before he could even get the report of the biopsy. Before Abhishek knew, one-third of his tongue, along with his lymph nodes, was sliced. For nearly one year after his treatment, his taste buds didn’t return. Most things tasted like cardboard or metal.
With divine grace, he’s doing fine now. He had to.
Going through the ordeal, while he lay in the hospital bed with tubes going in and out of his mouth, throat, and neck, he decided, if he made it out of the hospital, he was going to attempt something magnanimous. And so germinated the dream of swimming the English channel. It’s not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination (you can read the rules here). In a population of 7.2 billion, only some 1800 people have done it to date. Swimming across the English channel can mean a continuous swim of anywhere between 10 and 32 hours, in the tidal and choppy waters, icy cold, with just a small costume on your naked body (plus cap and goggles). You can’t get out of the water or touch the boat of the official observer. No human contact allowed.
“It’s just you and the water,” Abhishek said. “You are very lonely during the swim. Wherever you dart a glance, you see water. For hours, you just hear the water slapping against your ears. It’s most difficult when you don’t see the end in sight. I wanted to quit just when I was 15 minutes into the swim. It was so cold. People were drinking coffees and wrapped in blankets on the boat, and here I was, flapping against the current.” But, one stroke at a time, he kept going for 14 hours and 32 minutes.
So, when I asked him about the greatest learning this adventure gave him, he replied, “There’s nothing stopping you from trying to do what you want to do in life.”
I like the insight, Abhishek. You are right, no one can stop us from trying. Inspirational. Proud of you. Hope you go on to claim the bounty from the Universe.