It's one of our passions here at Girls that Scuba; finding women who are making waves in the professional dive industry, and there is none quite like Richa Malik - a tech diver and instructor from India who quit her job, and faced many questions by her stereotype-keeping Indian colleagues, to pursue her career as a scuba instructor. Your passion is infectious girl, we hand the spotlight over to you...
I am often met with wide-eyed wonder from other diving instructors who have handled Indian DSDs at one point or another in their life. The expression is always followed by the same question - “You are an Indian girl who is a diving instructor?” The interesting follow-up question I was once asked was - “Are you the only one in the world?” The truth is, I do know a few more female Indian instructors but the list for me ends on one hand.
As rare as I might make this breed of female Indian diving instructors sound, the journey isn't very different from the other diving professionals I have met over the last few months.
It has now been 8 months and counting since I left my corporate world behind, quit my job and packed my bags to take up diving professionally and become a diving instructor. I was already a rescue diver when I quit.
I was the typical Indian workaholic corporate slave for about 8 years before I quit my job to take up diving and see how far I can get. I started diving in 2015 and have been in love with it ever since. I served a two month notice period at my company during which I was asked uncountable number of times whether I am really quitting my high-paying corporate job for scuba diving.
And that was just the start of the questions. People in India (true to some of the stereotypes everyone else might know) do not expect a post-graduate to suddenly quit and go on an adventure - especially not a girl - who surprisingly is not married in spite of being over 30 and whose parents are not forcing her into getting married either.
As if crushing all those stereotypes for the Indians was not enough, I picked up a sport that is linked to something they are not very well-versed with - water!
I learned only when I started my Divemaster course that a large number of Indians cannot swim. I’ve been a water baby all my life and assumed all my friends could swim (this too turned out to be untrue as now I know most of them can’t).
So people from outside India would always direct the list of stereotypical questions to me - Why are so many Indians afraid of water?; Why can’t they swim? Why do they want to dive if they cannot swim? Why do they kick like they kick? What is with the head-nod? And so on… Tired of being expected to answer these questions all the time, I actually started writing a blog about Indian DSDs just because being an Indian Instructor I have the rare opportunity to do so without sounding evil (at least not too evil) or racist!
I chose to do my Divemaster and Instructor course in Indonesia and while doing the same, was introduced to the concept of Tech Diving. Curious to see how far I can push myself, I did my Sidemount course to prepare myself to do the Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures Course (TDI). I am all of 5 feet tall so twin tanks was out of the question as a starting point so I did the TDI courses on Sidemount.
In fact, the best question I was asked regards to diving which still remains unanswered for me is whether I am the only Indian Female Tech Diver in the world?
Now, as I look back over the past months, I realise that I have been called a rare breed and a black sheep among Indians - but that is not how I look at it. In spite of being asked a long list of stereotypical questions every now and then, I am resilient to look at this as an adventure where I am doing what challenges me to test my limits and meeting wonderful people along the way. It does take some extra effort some times - such as convincing friends and family that I do have a real job and do not need to come back to the “real working life” - or convincing my non-Indian employers that I am a capable instructor in spite of being Indian (this especially for non-Indians who know a lot of Indian non-swimmers or DSDs).
I do feel like I am not the typical Indian you would meet and I have had a wonderful time telling people my story about being that girl from India who doesn't fit into any of the Indian stereotypes (I don't even do the Indian head nod - beat that!!).
I do not feel like I am in a place to give advice to people to follow their dreams and passions and where to find the grit to figure out ways to achieve it. But, it would still give me immense joy if some day my story inspired someone to break barriers in their life and not care about stereotypes and move on with their head held high towards their adventure and do all the things they want to - as risky, irresponsible, unconventional as it may seem to those around them! The list of questions will always be never-ending from all corners but that has stopped bothering me now and I am proud to be that rare breed of an Indian Female Diving Instructor + Tech Diver!
Follow Richa on Instagram @eat.sleep.dive.repeat
*Update: We met and dived with Richa in Pondicherry India! So great to meet you Richa!