Nitish Chengappa: Water Baby.

Diver, Shark Whisperer, Happiness Seeker.

“It’s as close as you can come to meditation”, Nitish says without hesitation, when asked how diving makes him feel. Just listening to him talk is enough to convince anyone, who hasn’t already done so, to give it a try. There’s palpable energy in every anecdote he shares about one of his 1500 dives, excitement when he describes his experience swimming with bull sharks in Florida, and agony when he cusses out the pandemic for preventing him from being where he wants to be right now. In the ocean. Exactly where he belongs. 

His journey has been extraordinary, to say the least. An average Joe (by his own admission) when it came to academics, Nitish spent more than two decades after he graduated, working in tea plantations in the Annamalais and with an IT firm in Bangalore. Then in 2002, during a leisurely diving holiday in Maldives with his brother, Nikhil, his life changed. Seeing his first manta ray got him hooked. Diving went from being just a hobby to a lifelong passion, his trips to Maldives became an annual affair and the question of whether to dive professionally lingered. “A safe, salaried environment is what prevents people from pursuing their dreams. It took me years to realize that despite the risk I just wanted to do what makes me happy,” he says.

He finally founded Fleetfoot Adventures, with his brother in 2015. In the last 5 years he has helped over 700 SCUBA divers discover the magical, clear blue waters and rich marine life of Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and of course, the beginning of it all, Maldives, where he spends between 120-150 days a year. “I’ve never regretted it,” he says firmly. “I’ve never been happier. I can’t wait to wake up every morning and go to work.” A firm believer that money doesn’t equal fulfilment, he adds, “If you’re passionate about something money will come to you. Your passion will be evident to others, it will show in every little detail of the work you do. That is success. Even if for some reason, things don’t work out, it’s alright. You’ll still be happy doing what you love.”    

Having his own business also means he has enough time to pursue his other interests. Whether it is riding his Triumph Tiger across the Himalayas, fishing in the Mahakali, going on a safari in South Africa or camping in the wilderness, Nitish’s life of adventure might as well be the plot for the next Indiana Jones movie.

With his boyish charm, tattoos, and a fighting fit physique, Nitish doesn’t look his age, despite his greys. He golfs, has trained in Krav Maga, kickboxes, swims, lifts weights, and carefully watches what he eats. But looking younger than he is not the point, he says. “I just want to stay fit to do what I love for as long as I can.” Ask him what ageing means to him and he replies emphatically, “Nothing!” 

We’ll admit it was a bad question. Nitish Chengappa doesn’t really have the time to think about what ageing means. He’s too busy planning his next dive, looking forward to swimming with the Great White someday, and riding into newer horizons of happiness.

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