Imagine a world far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. A place surrounded by untamed natural beauty, mystical blue waters and a blanket of stars. The island life of the Andaman Islands teems with just such breathtaking panoramas, flora, and lagoons for the curious. Yet there is a secret world — far more enchanting, known only to a few explorers that is rife with creatures and beauties, the likes of which are unseen elsewhere in the world. One discoverer has made it his mission to document these worlds, and bring their rapturous wonders for us to behold. His weapon of choice — a camera. Mumbai-born Sumer Verma first came to the Lacadives on vacation in 1997. “Watching the crystal-clear waters awash with life and its marvels, captivated and put me on a road to scuba diving and underwater photography,” recalls the master diver. With 20 years of dedicated exploration, his eyes have witnessed untold marvels hidden deep in the ocean. Sumer is one of India’s most prominent names in deep sea diving, ocean conservationism and underwater photography.
Inspired by the great unknown of the oceans, Sumer’s spectrum of work stretches from fashion, film to wildlife, across fashion, arts, exhibitions and films. “The blue magic of ocean is moving. You are blown away by these creations of nature. There is an ethereal gentleness and connection with nature that moves you. You know you are part of one big consciousness,” he explains before he asks, “Did you know there are 2000 known species of sea slugs in our oceans?”
Sumer who is also the director of Lacadives today, is guided by his guru Prahlad Kakkar’s words that “95% of the work goes to the best professionals. The endeavour has to push the envelope and to trust the process,” he informs. Verma had found his calling, and he became passionate about championing the importance of preserving our oceans. This he did both through his chosen medium of photography and his passion for diving.
The diver counts Lakshwadeep with its natural coral islands and the Andamans with their volcanic islands, as India’s best diving spots. “They are far away from the mainland and the waters here are unpolluted, pristine and clear. There is some diving activity happening in Pondicherry, Vizag, and Goa as well.
According to the ace, the Galapagos offer the most majestic sights internationally. “The exuberant burst of life and nature on the islands have penguins, dolphins, sharks, corals and other fauna that are millions of years old. Indonesia is another paradise. It has the only few 100% live coral reefs in the world — a testament to how the oceans should be,” he informs.
Today, the sport has rising interest amongst the younger generation and that has not been lost on the veteran. He explains, “Youth is now seeking this as an option. The space is looking up. With such interest, ocean conservation too shall get an impetus.”
To begin with underwater photography, you first need to become really good at scuba diving. It is important to learn professionally, focus on safety, before even touching the camera. “One needs to respect the ocean. It’s a matter of passion. You can apprentice under other professionals, practice and pick up the craft. But first it must start with taking the plunge,” he explains. He reveals how today there are better opportunities than ever before. People want to know more — for art or education.
Sumer, however, cautions that we live in perilous times. “Society is being let down as the lead and mercury levels in water continue to rise. There is overfishing, our waters are getting toxic and it is entering right back into the food chain. We are over consuming and damaging the ecology and nature of our very oceans.”
His fears ring true with plastic recently being found in the deepest hallows of earth at the Mariana Trench raising a red-flag. “The oceans are not an unlimited resource. Are oceans are becoming acidic and the chemistry changing. The corals which have flourished for millions of years are susceptible. One shudders to think how non-sustainable practices may push us back by hundreds of years.”
Yet Sumer is not the one to lose hope. He preserves and perseveres. “I get my rush from a sense of purpose and freedom. To be not driven by have-to, but by whom you want to be. It will always be my mission to chase this constant rhythm of life. I hope my work helps spread the word.
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