MEET NEELA BHASKAR, INDIA’S FIRST FEMALE FULL CAVE & TECHNICAL DIVER- PART III
Neela Manasa Bhaskar is India’s first female Full Cave and Technical Diver and a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, a Bharatnatyam teacher and all round Superwoman.
Vishwanath Rajan continues his chat with Neela, a powerhouse of Indian Scuba Diving.
14. Vishwanath- What are the significant challenges that you’ve faced as a woman, as a woman traveller, as a woman diver, as a woman dive instructor?
Neela – The significant challenges I have faced as a woman-well, to be honest, that’s rather difficult to answer. I never felt that there were issues because I was a woman. However, looking back, I see that they are indeed so.
Some people told me I could never possibly enter this profession and be taken seriously just because I am small, brown and a woman. Female colleagues ridiculed me for ‘shamelessly’ talking to boys while in a swimsuit, or said that I should never hope to marry because I will be too dark-skinned, or even said that I was not interested in diving but rather the male company I found in dive shops. All this did make me doubt whether this was a feasible option for me.
But at the end of the day, I surprisingly managed to shut them down, because I focused on the sport itself, and the great thing about being underwater is that one can’t talk anymore!
15. Vishwanath – India is still just warming up to scuba diving as a serious recreational sport and hobby. Have you faced any dive equipment related issues that you would like rectified?
Neela – India indeed is. But I found that the open-mindedness required to accept a sport such as scuba in this country comes from unexpected and beautiful places. The fishermen community on the East Coast that I have had the good fortune of working with has always supported and encouraged me and many others, even though they might hold the general reputation of being of a very traditional mindset. When I walk into the local tea shop after a dive in my wetsuit, I don’t get funny looks anymore. I even recall telling a priest in the Shiva temple in Marakkanam that I was a diving instructor, and he was fascinated and took my contact details!
My dance teacher has always encouraged me 100%, allowing me weekends off rehearsals to be able to dive. Also, the fact that all adventure sports are a growing thing in India right now (paragliding, surfing, SUP, scuba, rock climbing and many more) allows for scuba to make progress in the minds of people as well. Anything is possible in India. It’s only a matter of time.
Dive equipment related issues in India begins first and foremost with the extremely high taxes and costs of the gear itself. Then, for me, there is a size issue. Try getting a girl like me a wetsuit that fits. I did my entire training up to my IDC in a ‘baby’ BCD for eight-year-olds! And more recently, trying to find a decent drysuit that works well for me means I have to, in all likelihood, buy a custom-made one. That will rack up quite a bill!
I do not have a business mind or model, so I would not be able to answer the question of how to rectify these issues. As I travel extensively, I am lucky that I can buy equipment abroad. However, I think that it is a matter of time. Demand creates supply, and the more like me there are, the bigger the market will grow. It is essential, in general, to read up and educate oneself about what one needs gear-wise, so that one can plan on how to purchase it reasonably and without too much of a hole in the pocket.
16. Vishwanath – Cave Diving is an extreme sport- considered one of the most dangerous of all. What was your driving force to get certified as a Full Cave Diver?
Neela – Cave diving indeed is! Once again, going in a cave was the natural step ahead for me from technical diving. I also wanted to try and learn from an organization other than PADI, to increase my knowledge and understand different systems better. In technical diving, there is a virtual glass ceiling. One cannot go to the surface as and when they please and must plan a dive considering a detailed ascent-plan for safety reasons. Once I got used to the idea that even in open water, I couldn’t go up even if I wanted to, I thought it was time to replace the virtual glass with a real one. A friend in Mexico convinced me to come over and give it a shot, and I didn’t hesitate at the opportunity. The Cenotes were beautiful, and my instructor Markus was exceptional and patient. Not once did I think of it as dangerous or idiotic (although several of my friends and family understandably did!), but somewhat surreal, fun and incredibly beautiful! I can’t wait to go back and continue pushing my limits.
17. Vishwanath – How did it feel, getting certified as India’s only woman Full Cave Diver?
Neela – It felt pretty cool. Again, this is something that I only thought of in retrospect. I honestly could not believe that I managed to finish the course (it wasn’t easy), but was very fortunate to have such supportive people around me. For me, in the bigger picture, I hope it proves to women out there who genuinely believe that they do not have any choices, that they are actually spoiled for choice. It is 100% up to YOU to turn your dreams into reality, and I am, thank God, an example of that.
18. Vishwanath – Travelling between multiple cities and studying, dancing and learning to dive at the same time must have been an adventure by itself. How did you manage to stay focused on all your goals?
Neela – It has not been easy. I have managed to stay focused because I have grown up ‘juggling’ several responsibilities since a very young age. School, swimming lessons, studies, dance and music classes every day since I was six years old compelled me to learn to organize my time more efficiently. My parents have also been great role models in this. I have never seen them fail to fulfill their responsibilities, no matter how many and how difficult.
I realize, however, that diving drains one’s physical and mental energy alike, which is why I have set it aside until I complete my studies. I still dive for fun, but a career in diving right now is out of the question.
19. Vishwanath – What message would you like to leave for our readers?
Neela – Well, considering the theme of the interview, I only say to women that we all need to work as a team, whatever we might do in our lives. If we support each other, we can all make progress and create a strong base for healthy competition. We often underestimate the value of teamwork.
Also, thank you for the opportunity to say all these things and to recognize my efforts over the years.
I look forward to the responses, and see you soon in the water, Vish! It is a pleasure to know you.
The above article is the final one in the three series interview with Neela, India’s first female Full Cave and Technical Diver and a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer.