It was barely a few days since she had been drafted into the job. Pooja Bude was patrolling a beach in Goa. A few middle-aged men, visibly drunk, were venturing into the sea. She blew her whistle, motioning them to come back. No one paid heed—a sadly common affair. Suddenly, one of them was swept by a wave. Pooja’s training kicked in—she walkie-talkied the tower for support. Within minutes, her fellow rescuer and she were in the water. “We brought him ashore, called an ambulance. I wrote my first incident report,” says Pooja. Shivering yet exhilarated, it was the beginning of a new career.
Tougher than you think
Pooja is one of the three women who have been recently inducted into a force of life-savers at Goa’s beaches. The three women are part of the team at Drishti Marine, India’s largest water safety and life-saving service, which has 400 life-savers patrolling Goa’s 103km coastline. When the company put out a recruitment ad—Pooja, along with Charmaine DeSouza and Harsha Naik—answered. The training was rigorous. To qualify, the life-savers must master a 400-m swim in 11 minutes, 5m jump, underwater swim, use of rescue boards, tubes, first-aid techniques of CPR and spinal management, surveillance techniques, patrolling, jet ski and jeep manoeuvring, identifying beach terrains, waves patterns and rip currents, and even marine mammal rescue. All this in addition to the thankless task of battling tourists unaccustomed to obeying orders and, oft inebriated. “Almost 90 percent rescues occur even after [tourists] have been cautioned,” says Divya Sharma, head of brand culture and communication, Drishti Marine.
These three daring women from Goa already have plenty of experience to share—and tips that could save your life
Charmaine DeSouza, 46
When she was three, a doctor recommended that Charmaine take up swimming as her legs were not developing adequately. Today, even though she has to deal with the odd rude tourist, she is grateful that she can swim to save their lives. “The Sinquerim-Candolim stretch has dumping waves due to an uneven seabed, which can knock one off. In Baga, there are rip currents,” she says.
Charmaine was inspired in part by Baywatch, though “Not Pamela Anderson,” she laughs, and is also a published author of City of Screams, an anthology of horror stories.
Foreigners thank her profusely, she says, and are taken aback seeing a woman lifeguard. Indians regard her work as a duty with nary a thank you, though things are changing, she says. Her pet peeve is the many broken bottles on the beach. “I caution people, and request they pick up any. I myself pick up broken bottles on patrol–and this is NOT a part of my job.”
Pooja Mahadev Bude, 23
In the lazy fishing village of Sawantwadi taluka’s Aronda, a portly girl learnt swimming in the neighbourhood “nullah” by tying pet bottles into a float. Today, Pooja holds a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce and also Hotel Management. Yet, she signed up for this job that requires her to travel 46km from Aronda to Baga to work daily. She is grateful for her family’s support, and wishes tourists were more sensitive to women like her who are out there for their safety. “I warn [those drinking at the beach] about the Rs10,000 fine. It’s only some cultured folk who listen. That is the hardest part.”
Pooja recently helped a child with a jellyfish bite, has dressed wounds from broken glass, and even a knife. Missing children are increasingly becoming a problem on Goa’s beaches, she warns. “The job is much more than rescuing. I feel happy I can keep people safe.”
Harsha Naik, 25
As a child, Harsha would float for hours in the Nagesh temple pond at Ponda. “We would swim from 6am to 11pm till our parents came with a stick,” she giggles.
The Bicholim girl comes from a family of swimmers. Her brother Gautam is a life-saver on Anjuna beach, and it was his exploits that piqued her interest. Harsha and the others did their practical training at what the team calls “the biggest beast” – Baga, a known trouble spot. Just recently, things got ugly when some men physically abused and threatened her. That was the limit for Harsha, who retaliated with a resounding slap. Well deserved, she says. “I had to go to the doctor to fix my broken glasses.” Yet perseveres.
Life-savers are revalidated every six months, and these women will be put to the test again in the harshest season–the monsoon. The value of their effort goes way beyond the salary of Rs17,000 that they draw. A little respect and some courtesy from the tourist would be nice, they say.