Dipping in icy waters in New Year is a festival around some western countries. Polar Bear Plunge is a very popular event in Canada. These events are organised on the first day of the year. Far in the east, the Midnight Swim is a similar event in Shillong. Although Shillong temperature hovers around 4-8 degree during this time, the bravados add huge ice blocks in the small 25-metre pool to make it challenging. No wonder only over a dozen make it every year. Interestingly, most of the participants are middle aged persons the eldest being 63 this time. Michael Syiem (59), founder of Forever Young Club, and his peers started this challenge 19 years ago. Over the past few years, the Club has been adding 10 more ice blocks every year. The count this year was 80 blocks, each weighing 50 kg.
The Midnight Swim event, although participated by a very few people unlike the ice bath in western countries, has gained wide popularity over the years. It has been passing a positive message to the youngsters to take up challenges in their lives. The event, if given wide publicity through government initiative, can feature in the tourism circuit. Of course, the venue then has to be shifted to a bigger pool. It has the unique characteristic of being held at midnight, perhaps the only such event. All the ice water bath events in western countries are held in the day, the New Year day, where hundreds take part. The Midnight Swim, with a bit of change, can multiply the tourist footfall to the state, which is already a hot tourist destination. It might also help the state to hold on to its ‘Scotland of the East’ tag, which is losing sheen over the years due to rampant mining and haphazard urban growth. The last but not the least aspect of Midnight Swim is the message it gives about importance of maintaining good health through natural means.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on January 2, 2016)