Starting off as a management consultant, he gave it all up when the waters beckoned and dived into an alternative destiny. Shruti Mittal speaks to scuba diver Vandit Kalia and tries to get a grip on scuba diving as an emerging career
He was a water baby as a youngster, without an iota of an idea that he would eventually embrace the seas as a profession. Vandit Kalia, or Vinnie, had been from North Atlantic deep-sea wrecks to Florida, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and Maldives, but back then, it had been little more than just holiday fun. Today, Vinnie is India’s highest ranked diving instructor and the proud owner of a diving company called DIVEIndia, with centres in the Andaman Islands on Havelock and Neil Islands.
Vinnie isn’t an amateur who goes scuba diving just for fun. He is a National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) Course Director, a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Staff Instructor and Scuba Schools International (SSI) Divecontrol Specialist Instructor. He is an experienced cold-water trimix/technical diver as well, making him more than adequately qualified for his profession.
However, Vinnie had begun his career on a rather conventional note, as a management consultant with an MBA in Finance to boot. He was earning good money but the work was slowly losing appeal for him. Finally, the monotony of the job forced him to move out. He shifted base to the Andaman Islands, where he opened DIVEIndia’s first-ever branch. “Today it sounds like a smart move, but back then, life was really difficult. People hadn’t woken up to the beauty of the Andamans and scuba diving. In addition to the task of marketing a relatively lesser known destination, we were crippled by the tsunami of 2004. At one point of time, we had almost shut shop,” he remembers.
However, things fell back in place with time and the Andaman Islands regained position as a popular tourist destination, with far more tourists coming in to sample diving. Vinnie succeeded, and even went on to develop certain areas of the Andamans into tourist destinations.
What it takes
To be an instructor, an individual needs to have been diving for at least six years. Completion of 100 dives is one of the criteria, which will be closely monitored by a diving professional. A whole bunch of progressive courses are also required. “After an open water course, you take up advanced, rescue, dive master, assistant instructor and dive instructor courses as well,” Vinnie informs.
A very important virtue, without which you can never be an instructor, is patience. Vinnie explains that as each person’s pace of learning is different, you also need varied, customised approaches to coaching and motivating people. “Diving comes with an element of risk, and you have to master the art of goading people to take the risk,” Vinnie explains. “You should know how to persuade your students. Also, bear in mind that there is no room for error. Prior experience will help an instructor greatly.”
Knowing the industry
Anyone passionate about scuba diving needs to know that this is not a high-volume industry. Vinnie explains that there will never be hundreds or thousands of jobs in the scuba diving industry. “Presently also, we have only a handful of dive centres in India. At DIVEIndia, we hire merely seven to eight instructors in a year,” he reveals. Vinnie wishes to warn aspirants of this career to ‘think a thousand times’ before plunging into it. “This is not the kind of work you can sustain for several years. The patience and hard work required by the job can be excruciating. As a result, most people do it just for a while and then move on either to an alternative career or a different role,” he admits.
Early to bed and early to rise, makes a person a good scuba diver. A diver starts his day pretty early and ends his evening with partying, fun and socialising. There are hardly any tough clauses, except a certain element of responsibility because you are in charge of several lives.
Vinnie states that even when not diving, a scuba diver needs to be in control of himself. “Many instructors lose that perspective. They party, get drunk and have hangovers. While you may get away with this in some places, it will be unacceptable in respectable dive centres. When you’re teaching, you have to be completely devoted to the job.”
The unusual lifestyle could be one reason why people take to diving only for a few years, and then move on to something else, usually a more managerial profile such as that of a diving manager. “It is a natural progression,” explains Vinnie. “A diving instructor has to maintain himself really well. Besides diving daily, you have to be prepared to deal with people from all over the world. At every dive, you teach from scratch. Hence, the people who do well in this profession are usually the ones who’re smart, articulate and enjoy partying and socialising.”
Vinnie points out that in developed countries such as the US, there are instructors who have been at their job a good 30 to 40 years. “However, this trend is yet to pick up in India. Few people here stay in this profession all their lives. If you want to be a dive instructor or master for long enough, you have to be passionate to the extent that you fall in love with the under-water world again and again, each time you dive,” he says.
Income and nature of the job
Scuba diving has two levels: you can either be a dive master or a dive instructor. Being a dive master is more fun because you dive everyday and get paid between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 a month, depending on your experience. As a dive instructor, the salary ranges from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 per month, depending on the role and opportunity. This is a seasonal job, usually done for four to eight months a year. Joining this profession for the money may not prove fruitful for you and the company you work for, opines Vinnie. “You need to like the job first. You really have to love diving, because this job requires you to dive daily. It is completely different from a regular 9 am to 6 pm job where you dress up and go to work, and take instructions from your seniors.
Working in the seas requires an instructor or master to be alert and patient all the time, since they’re responsible for the safety of their students and clients. It shows very easily if an instructor doesn’t like diving. “If I have an instructor who is doing it for money, I will just fire him. I want him to make money and do well, but if you don’t love your job enough, it will show. And this is detrimental to everyone, be it the institute, the student or the instructor himself,” explains Vinnie, adding that the most important part of this job is your personality, and how you interact with your students.
“We’re neither ‘teachers’ in the strict sense, nor service providers, rather somewhere in-between. But the stakes in our industry are high. A yoga teacher may not teach an asana well, but it won’t be the end of the world. In our case, an incorrectly tutored student will go kill himself. So then, there is a certain standard we have to attain in our coaching. Further, you have to ensure the people on board have fun through the course,” he elaborates.
Considering that this profession requires you to be on the job even after getting done for the day, leading a normal family life is difficult. “You socialise with your clients post-work. Besides, this industry does not create too many job opportunities. The risk factor while diving is also high, and you may end up not wanting to pursue this profession all your life,” Vinnie concludes.