“Moving Clocks go slower” – Albert Einstein

*

“10000 feet.

I check my watch, 25 minutes that we’ve been airborne in the Cessna. I am edgy…the butterflies whirling around in my stomach kind. The winds aren’t crazy. The high flaky clouds  say it’s a good day…I see one, then two, jump before me. It’s my turn. One deep breath and I’m airborne, then I’m falling and yet, I’m rising…

3000 feet.

45 seconds up…long ones. In which I’ve clasped, then left the hands of my fellow flier, seen the clouds, philosophised about the vastness of the sky and nature, imagined the impact of the high G-forces on fighter pilots, reminisced about how the air density was so different when I jumped at a dropzone by the sea, smirked that I’m going faster than my Porsche Cayman  waiting quietly on the ground below, smiled at what my boss would say come Monday, screamed my lungs out, imagined a kiss..

Nothing matters.

I pull out the drogue and am particular to throw it up and away. But then suddenly, the bridle lines are caught in my folded legs…dang! I try to reach out and un-entangle the lines. Finally the canopy container is deployed and I’m mildly jerked up. Phew! Another 11 seconds and I’d have been in jeopardy if my reserve would have fired too….

600 feet.

Time to get ready to touch earth.

300 feet.

I align myself to the landing pattern.

100 feet.

The landing spot is locked in my sight.

50…40…30…20…10 feet.

I pull down my brake lines slowly

0 feet.

I bend my knees to take the impact of ground, skid on the soft earth, take a hop and stop…

I live to fly another day….

Time flies, and changes and evolves, all in about 4 minutes.”

*

That was my introduction to Sajid Chougle and his Skydiving experience. Sajid is an animator and entrepreneur from Mumbai who admirably manages to sneak in a good amount of time to pursue his passion for adventure sports.

Sajid mid-flight (Image courtesy: Sajid Chougle)

Sky Diving! How did you decide to get into that?

It all started with my passion for flight since I was a child. Having lived in the United States for a while, pursuing my Masters at Syracuse University and later while working in the Telecommunication sector, gave me ample of opportunities to explore adventure sports, be it land, sea or air. After pursuing Dragonboat Racing for a while with the World Champion Team from Philadelphia, it was time to take the exploration to the skies, to an unparalleled level – Skydiving! It started with a tandem skydive.

“Once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you long to return.”

Leonardo Da Vinci

I then started my training for certification from a mom & pop dropzone where you’re treated more as family than a customer. I think that helped me build my skills and love for the sport as the jumpers out there were of the really passionate kind.

Juggling a professional career and an extreme sport as a hobby, it took me a year to get my Solo-License to skydive. But slowly over the years I jumped across various dropzones in USA, South Africa, Thailand and UAE, accumulating 125+ jumps.

Graphic courtesy: Sajid Choughle

Graphic courtesy: Sajid Choughle

125+ jumps while being a corporate junkie! What are your views on Sky Diving in India?

India is lucky with the vast type of terrain that is available to us. I would like India and Indians to explore the exhilaration as well as the discipline of extreme sports in a safe, exploratory and trained manner. I haven’t been able to fly in India yet. However, the quest to explore led me to try out rock climbing and mountaineering which I now pursue regularly.

Graphic courtesy: Sajid Chougle

Graphic courtesy: Sajid Chougle

Whoa! How does that work in a hectic work environment that Mumbai is infamous for?

Well, my risk -taking ability seeped into my career too when I decided to leave my cushy corporate job in USA and come back to India into an unknown entrepreneurial venture. I am an animator and run a startup called Last Bench, that designs and produces fun educational content. And yes that is my full-time work. Extreme sports can be a part of one’s life alongwith work and family, it’s all about time management…

Your thoughts of adventure in India?

Although I believe in a world without borders, I am very keen to put India on the adventure map. I sincerely believe that children and adults that are exposed to sports, especially the outdoor kind are less likely to get into substance abuse, trouble with law and stay more focussed and spirited. I’d really love to influence our youth in a positive manner, (something on those lines…and through extreme sports I can see the connect forming).

How do you manage to convince people about your sanity when you speak about something insane like Sky Diving?

Humans have always fancied flying from times immemorial. That quest led us to building planes. But there is nothing that can be compared to flying without metal…

When I used to peep from a plane to see the stretch of emptiness filled vast sky and clouds below you, I used to feel that that combination of empty air and gravity will pull me down. Only when I started diving, I realised that the stretch of empty air can actually lift you up, if you know how to fly that is.

There’s this pull that makes you want to go back in the sky and plummet 10000 ft & then open your canopy and fly like a bird. Maybe someday, these people will also come around and want to fly too.

I can philosophize on why I skydive and play this dangerous game. But in the end, I play it because it seems the best way of living, of being alive.

Optimist! Indians generally are risk averse. What makes you tick Sajid?

Yes, we do make risk a stranger, to live safe lives. In all my sport and adventure pursuits, I seek to learn – what makes the sport tick? What would it take me to achieve proficiency? I love the adrenaline rush, but I am not an adrenaline junkie, I’m an explorer. There is always so much to explore. But it requires an open mind and discipline to learn, absorb and apply. Yes adventure is risky. But, most of the accidents are caused due to human error and that can be minimised through training and experience.

We all have our flaws and fears, physical as well as mental. Adventure sports changes our perceptions about limitations – gets us out of the habit of enshrining our limitations and really break free.

Wow! So at the end of the day, what are you Sajid? Are you a climber, mountaineer, snowboarder, skydiver, animator?

Neither- I climb, fly, snowboard, travel, sketch, explore. I’m a moving verb, not a stagnant noun and that’s what I’ve learnt in these few years.

I read this piece that struck a chord “Music is wrought half from silence, half from sound.” The sky has always been my half silence. The peace and the beauty of the dropzone meant nothing to me without the inevitable, foreboding presence of gravity, ever changing nature of the air pressure and wind around me…

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Last Words?

Moving clocks go slower. If you want to live a full, fulfilling life, try flying, without a metal case.

For more information, contact Sajid at sajid.chougle@last-bench.com

Deepa Bhat
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