It was the moment she had been waiting for. And yet, when the time came, she just couldn’t do it.



“Jump!” he repeated.

“No,” she replied, suddenly afraid.

Until a few months ago, 45-year-old Uma Mani hadn’t even known how to swim. Yet now she had set out to dive into the deep sea.Then suddenly the dive master gave her a nudge and she flipped backwards from the boat into the deep dark waters.

The cool water embraced her like a mother, and gentle currents rocked her as if the sea was singing a lullaby. She swam to the sea floor to see for herself what she had dreamed of for years – the brilliant colours and fantastic shapes of a coral reef.

Swimming over the reef, she marvelled at the table coral – bigger than a dining table, with edges that looked exactly like white lace. She exclaimed at one that even looked like a biryani pot. And the fishes! She found herself in the middle of a school of fish that was almost 1.5 kilometres long! “I couldn’t even see the water,” she said with wonder.

And from the moment she stepped into their underwater realm she became a life- long crusader of coral reefs.A crusade that wasn’t as simple as it seems.


Illustration by Soumil Rathi, 12.

One day, she once again caught the tiger by the tail and went back to continue her course. However, when she went out on the boat to the open seas, her courage failed her, and her dive master had to push her in. That one push gave her a ringside seat in one of nature’s most spectacular theatres – The Coral Reef.

An underwater graveyard

Thoothukudi was famous in history. So famous, that even the Romans knew about it 3000 years ago! Off the coast of this city were tall reefs, more than 10 feet high, rich with pearl oysters. Divers all along the coast dived into these waters and plucked out pearl oysters making Tuticorin a renowned trading centre for pearls.

It was here that Uma made her first dive into Indian waters. And she was stunned. This time, not by the beauty of the reef, but by the desolation. “Where were the glorious corals that divers plucked pearl oysters from? What happened to the colours? What happened to the fish that should have been darting around in this, their home? This is a coral graveyard!”

Coral Woman (HarperCollins Publishers India) is written by Lubaina Bandukwala and illustrated by Sanket Pethkar. It is part of Avid Learning’s ‘Sustainability Now: Conversations for Greener Future’ series.