Home / Features / Special Feature: Hyundai i20 Visits CLAW Global

 

We took the brilliant Hyundai i20 on a trip to Auroville to experience the importance of the work done by CLAW Global.

Story: Zal Cursetji

Photography: Apurva Ambep and Cee Jay

Scuba diving in simple terms is the act of spending a period of time underwater without having to hold one’s breath. We have all seen images of folk with those oxygen cylinders strapped on, swimming around with marine life enjoying the beauty of the earth we are rarely aware of. A look beneath that mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, which is 71 percent of our planet, is a mind-boggling experience that does indeed hold a medicinal placard too. It is here, within the medical field, that an organization, called CLAW Global, in Auroville, Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), has focused its time and research with stunning results, let alone the brilliant experience. But what is CLAW Global?

First things first, though: our journey. Our trip started from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in the brilliant new Hyundai i20. Being accustomed to this new beaut, we were well-versed in its ability to navigate through the crowded city streets as well as the butter-smooth highway leading up to the Indian Union Territory. The automatic turbocharged Hyundai i20 kept us very comfortable within the new premium hatchback, enabling us to arrive at our destination with a lot of energy. Comfort is a word used too often in our industry, but here, in the new i20, the definition of comfort is in its full form. Stylish switches, well-contoured leather-clad seats, music ringing out courtesy of Bose speakers, an air-purifier, enough room for the taller folk, and a well-damped ride do make quite a statement.

CLAW Global, which stands for “Conquer Land, Air, Water”, may sound like a rather bold statement. However, the organization isn’t run by an ordinary individual. It is the brainchild of Major Vivek Jacob, a retired officer in the Indian armed forces. Moreso, Major Jacob’s branch was the Indian Para Special Forces, which, as you can tell by the name, isn’t a job of an ordinary nature. This unit is made up of the most elite men and women in the country, the tip of our bright arrow, and the worst kind of hell for those who try to bring harm on us. However, this is a story about the idea of helping those in need, something that comes very naturally to the military mind.

What CLAW Global has done is use its expertise to help paraplegic and disabled women and men. In 2019, CLAW Global launched Operation Blue Freedom, wherein they set a world record of diving with 50 disabled men and women at the same time offshore in the Maldives. Eighty percent of those disabled folk weren’t born with their condition but had fallen prey to it due to an accident or a similar unfortunate situation.

Scuba diving has for years been considered a prescription for those with spinal injuries and amputations in western countries. In India, it is CLAW Global that has adopted this adventurous medicine while also carrying out research on the benefits of scuba diving. Proper research is the need of the hour for scuba diving to be considered a viable prescription. That is exactly the direction in which CLAW Global is going and its efforts are nearing fruition. No mean feat that.

Registering for one of CLAW Global’s programs sees you living at the Quiet Healing Centre in Auroville. This is a beautiful place right on the beach. Rooms here are simple but very clean and cozy. The road leading up to it, though, is a narrow lane from the main road dotted with two-wheeled vehicles here and there. Our i20 waltzed its way past and, in tighter situations, its sensor gave ample warning about possible harm from misjudged gaps.

Once at Quiet Healing Centre we were met by Santosh, a local of Auroville, with a beaming smile. Santosh briefed us about our accommodation and our immediate itinerary for the day and soon after, introduced us to Major Arun Ambathy, who would guide us through the entire three-day process. Major Ambathy is a busy man, with his phone constantly ringing, understandably so considering the job. Additionally Major Ambathy, a well-read man, keeps a keen interest in new ideas and concepts thrown around in the Auroville community. We have to admit that some of the ideas are quite impressive and sure do have a viable place in our crowded cities.

Our first session started with a little training which is conducted in a pool at the Quiet Healing Centre. Here my instructor, Prabhash, walked me through the basics of the activity. The first lesson given by Prabhash, a former Para Special Force commando, was about getting me familiar with the scuba equipment I would be using. Prabhash’s calm conversational teaching style was to the point and confidence-inspiring. It’s surprising how these men, who have spent so much time in hostile environments or training for them, are such collected and patient teachers. Being an ex-coach myself, I noticed they had naturally mastered certain aspects of teaching that are full chapters in the teaching 101 syllabi.

Soon we would be out in the Indian Ocean, all set to take that exciting plunge. Seatbelts on, we set off towards the port. The Hyundai i20 had ample room for my scuba gear, which was tucked away in the boot. A scenic and comfortable drive through the once French colony with stunning architecture all around heightened the excitement that was to follow. The i20 felt quite at home in Puducherry. Even though the car sports a futuristic design, it blended in perfectly well with picturesque Pondy.

However, things went a bit awry for yours truly, as there is one thing about the ocean or the sea that mars those marine exploration dreams: seasickness. That to and fro rocking is something that many a seafarer has suffered from and it does take time at sea to get used to or, rather, to be able to handle it. However, my saving grace was when an instructor called out, saying it was my turn. Once in the water, I was strapped into my gear and guided to our starting point by my instructor for the day, Ram. A few hand signals later, I was making my way down towards the man-made coral structures, home to a magnitude of aquatic species.

Being underwater is a surreal experience, one that would need a better description than a mere paragraph in this story. Short version – size and formations, fish of all sizes swimming in spiral columns tall and short, with enough light shining from the surface to notice their stunning colours. Nature really is the greatest artist and, within the ocean, there is a strange calmness that engulfs all who venture in. Paraplegics and amputees with their instructors spent a good period of time in this awe-inspiring environment. A look at their faces as they re-surfaced adduced the medical argument CLAW Global has been making. It wasn’t mere glee, but a sense of life restored that was embodied by them. CLAW Global’s instructors worked in a very safety-oriented manner, with each student having a minimum of three pairs of eyes constantly monitoring their dive.

These instructors aren’t all ex-special force personnel, though. Many like Kartik, Suhani, Ram, and Prithvi are certified instructors, divemasters, and possible mermaids. The experience provided by the entire course was most obvious to see on the faces of the participants. We chatted with some of the folk who seemed to be given the ability to levitate. Scuba diving has played a major role in the uplift of self-confidence. Which is a truly beautiful thing.

We met Dr Dhawal Patel, who is paralyzed from the chest down. This once active soul was unable to wheel himself but needed assistance. After the 10-day course, Dr Patel has been lapping the facility on his own. The look in Dr Patel’s eyes showed a stunning renewal of life within.

Another story would be of Dr Deepa, who ecstatically mentioned that this was the first time she was walking off-road as we made our way down the quarry where scuba sessions take place in a more controlled environment. It goes to show how caged a life some disabled people have lived. Once again, her eyes portrayed true happiness that cannot be expressed in words. Then there was Dr Ajay Doni, a dentist from Bengaluru who had lost his leg in a road mishap. The doctor was an avid fan of swimming, which, he said, always was a part of his life until the accident. Time spent with CLAW Global has brought back the lost passion, the doctor told us, and something that he wholly promotes for all those amputees and paraplegics.

These are just a few stories that we witnessed, demonstrating the importance of CLAW Global’s work. The organization has also just been given the go-ahead for their attempt to break another record: Eight disabled folks being guided to the highest military post on the planet, Siachen. We do wish CLAW Global the very best in conquering the land. Their work is something we take our hats off to.

Success continues with our own chariot, the Hyundai i20, as the new premium hatchback just won the coveted Indian Car of the Year (ICOTY) award for 2021. The car won this award because of being that much better than all else on offer, similar to what CLAW Global would like to do medically with their participants. These stories come together when we think of the future India deserves; a proper chance for the disabled to experience all that they consider lost and a car that has shot its segment onto a whole new space on the top floor.

 

About the author: Zal Cursetji

 

 

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