As far as films go, The Shawshank Redemption is right up there with the best of them. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give the performances of their lives, bringing unmatched intensity and feel to the script (which is actually based on a short story by Stephen King!). In a nutshell, the film is about hope – unflinching, unending hope. Something that Red, played by Freeman, warns Andy (the film’s protagonist Robbins) about: “Let me tell you something friend, hope is a dangerous thing, hope can drive a man insane.”
And, then, there’s faith. Not necessarily the religious sort, but the other, more humane kind — that of trust, or confidence in someone or something or even yourself. Now, imagine a cocktail of the two — healthy portions of hope and faith blended together in a shaker and poured out as an elixir.
Take this my child, and free yourself.
And suddenly, you’re sitting in a plane. Not one of those luxury jets with reclining seats, rotating headsets and a three-course meal. No, Sir. This is one of those small trainer jets — with propellers and a small wing span. There you are — sitting on all fours, strapped to another man, looking out the door at the asphalt as the plane takes off.
“It’s a fine day to jump out of the plane”, he says.
“We are now at 4,000 feet, and climbing,” the pilot shouts as you try and wriggle about — it’s terribly hard when you’re tied to another person.
What the bloody hell am I doing here? How did I get so far in? How do we make this plane turn around?
“How do you say crazy in your language?” asks Victor. Victor is a Brazilian, and with an unkempt beard, long curly hair, and an infectious smile, looks more like a musician than a skydiver — but hey, life is stranger than fiction.
“Paagal, we say paagal,” I tell him.
“Ahhh, you paagal Pakistani,” Victor screams, and turns away.
The last few weeks had passed by in a blur: The Google search, the eureka moment, the emails, the contact, the contract and suddenly, they were waiting for me at the reception.
“Take a look around you,” says Tom. One must admit that the view is breathtaking. We are now at 5,000 feet, over the island of Langkawi, Malaysia. The sun is out, and it glimmers across the surface of the Andaman Sea creating a glittery wave as it moves along. The water is blue, small islands dot the landscape, covered thickly by wide trees that look like small pieces of broccoli from this far up.
Tom taps me on the shoulder, which is right there. “I did my first jump in 1998,” he says — clearly, he’s trying to reassure me that, hey, look, I’m still alive — and moderately sane. But it doesn’t work.
My death grip on the plane’s door beam tightens even further as the plane continues its ascent — we are now literally obscured by clouds, and the mercury drops a notch. I miss the temperature-controlled environment of the passenger jet that brought me here.
Everything leading up to this point has been a blur, a disconnect, a third person perspective — like an acid trip, I’m told. But I’m sober, and here I am, and no matter what I do or where I go, here I am. There is no escaping.
I will be jumping out of a plane. Hope and faith combined.
We’ve rehearsed it all before: Move your legs outside. Hold onto the straps on your chest. As we drop, throw your head and feet back — and leave the rest to me.
Suddenly, we’re there. 10,000 feet above the Island. There are fist bumps all around.
“You ready for the trip of your life, mate?” asks Tom as we rotate towards the door. My feet are outside the plane now. All I can see is blue.
And then Tom jumps. I’m just along for the ride. That one moment can best be described as empty. There is a feeling of nothingness, of being in the wrong place — of going against God’s plan. Birds are supposed to see this view — not humans.
This emptiness is brief. Two, three seconds max. And, then you realise. You’re flying. You’re Superman. During the free fall, which usually lasts for 30 seconds, jumpers can reach speeds of up to 200 km/h for belly-to-earth orientation which is precisely how we were rocketing down. Your skin is tearing at its core, your teeth feel like they will pop out of their gums and quickly be swallowed whole into your gaping mouth — but inside, everything is tranquil. You are one.
Tom opens the parachute and everything changes — it’s like God intervening to save you from a violent blue death: Nature takes over, and the free fall comes to an end — and there you are, floating. The focus returns — the blue of the sea, the green of the island, the sun’s glimmer.
“How was it for you?” Tom asks.
But I can’t answer. I have just defied human nature. I have gone against God’s plan. I have felt what it feels like to be a bird, to have wings.
There’s no sensation to compare with this, suspended animation, a state of bliss.