At midnight on December 31, a group of 24 people in Shillong didn’t just take the proverbial plunge but literally jumped into a pool of ice-cold water — adhering to a homegrown tradition that originated 21 years ago.
In 1997, Shillong’s Forever Young Club —a group of fitness enthusiasts — organised a New Year ritual that would evolve to become an annual ritual in the years to come. Michael N. Syiem, the president of the club, might call it a “simple ritual” — but it is definitely one that requires a lot of bravado: as the clock strikes twelve, the (voluntary and, as per rules of the event, fully sober) participants are required into jump in a swimming pool in Shillong — a place where temperatures during winters hit an easy minimum of three to four degrees.
“It’s a way of welcoming the new year — by challenging yourself to take up whatever the coming year might have in store,” says Syiem, an RTI-activist and a marathon runner based in Shillong. He has been participating in this midnight swim for the past 22 years now.
“This time we added four tonnes of ice into the water. We started adding ice in 2010 — and we increase it by half a tonne every year. It just adds to the challenge,” he says.
On December 31, there were 24 participants — including one girl — who “took the plunge.” Khalid Khan, 45, a Shillong-based lawyer, has been doing it for three years now. “Some people swim, some just dive in and come out immediately. I was in the pool for a bit that day, despite the fact that it was really freezing that day,” he says, adding that the fact that the pool is located next to a stream makes the temperatures even colder. The Crinoline Swimming Pool, the hill station’s first pool built by the British in 1942, is located near a reserve forest through which the Umshyrpi stream flows. “Water from a stream there directly flows in here to the pool,” says Syiem.
“There is a certain kind of spirituality that lends itself to the event too — it’s like starting the new year with a kind of a prayer,” says Syiem, adding that while some of the participants were club members, a lot of people from different backgrounds, villages and towns as well as diverse age groups were present. “People from Delhi and Kolkata showed up too!” he says.
Says Khalid, “I have done this for three years and I plan to do it every year — the idea is about pushing yourself and believing that everything is possible.”