Today is a memorable day. Fifty years ago, on 29th May 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgey had reached on Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. It was an extra-ordinarily thrilling moment in the mankind’s victorious march. The world is celebrating golden jubilee of that historic occasion for last several days. Special material is being published in the journals on Mt. Everest. To re-enact the past, a large number of expeditions have been taken up in this season with renewed enthusiasm. A 16-year Sherpa girl reached the top and created a new record. She became the youngest person to attain these heights. A Japanese mountaineer made another record. At the ripe age of 70, he became the oldest person ever to reach on Mt. Everest. A successful expedition was conducted by a group of 5 Indian Army personnel. In the meantime, an interesting story has come to light through a new book published by Major M.S.Kohli, an Everest veteran. We now know that Major Kohli was serving the Indian Army as a spy in the Himalayas. What could have been a better cover for conducting the task? Among all these heart-warming stories, one comes across unseemly debates about whom really reached first on Mt. Everest, and who should be given credit for this feat. In this huge pile of news stories two items were quite worrisome. One that the pristine beauty of Mt. Everest and of its approaches was being marred due to garbage and rubbish littered around by the climbers. Another was that nouveau riche people, who have hardly any love lost for the mountains, were joining the expeditions in large numbers with an eye on the fame that their money could buy.
One of the two heroes of 1953 is not alive today. Sherpa Tenzing Norgey passed away many years ago. But it’s heartening to note that in this festive atmosphere all has duly and richly remembered him. His achievement is a matter of pride for the sub-continent. Though, Tenzing was a Nepalese, India always treated him as her own. For a long time, he served as the Director of National Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, and taught the youngsters to live fearlessly and accept challenges in life. This may be recalled that ever since his return from the expedition, he got immense affection and support from Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru. Sir Edmund Hillary is still active defying his age. The Govt. of New Zealand did a very sensible thing some years ago, by appointing him as High Commissioner to India. A relationship of deep love and affection between Sir Edmund and India & Nepal has developed over the years. He refused to consider the Everest victory as his final mission. Readers may remember that after that he once lead the Ganga expedition, too. But the beauty is that he has molded his achievements into a life filled with profound human concern. Hillary is running many a programmes for the welfare of the Sherpas living in the shadow of the Himalayas. Not many people know that there are 27 hospitals and a number of schools being run under his guidance. He is also conducting several job-training programmes for their well-being. One feels grateful to Sir Edmund Hillary for his concerns and philosophy of life.
The mankind has always yearned to break new grounds and attain new heights. It is in his nature. In the modern times, Hillary and Norgey are among the brightest examples of this inherent quest. I tend to remember so many other names, stories of whose deeds fill our hearts with joy and thrill, and inspire to do something new and good in life, like Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, Neil Armstrong, Rakesh Sharma and now Kalpana Chawla. The persons of my age may also remember “Lyka”- the very first creature to orbit the space, a trusted friend of man. None of the above-mentioned was either a spiritual Guru giving discourse on meaning of life, or a philosopher deliberating on the question of relationship between life and cosmos, nor a statesman steering the course of nation and society, and nor a billionaire with the inflated notion of holding the universe in his palms. They all were ordinary people, living an ordinary life; but aren't the meaning of life, secrets of the cosmos, direction of the society and the power to hold the world self-evident in what these people have achieved?
Think of it, what does a person need in this life? What is there to life after fulfilling basic requirements of day-to-day existence? There are a big, very big number of those who are content to live an eventless, mundane life. They are happy people, who don’t look beyond their own existence. Then are a big number of those for whom the ultimate meaning of life lies in amassing wealth and power. They are pre-occupied all the time with selfish desires of name, fame, sensuous pleasures, and even salvation. To fulfill their dreams, they show false dreams to others. But when asked if the mankind has made all the progress on the strength of these tow categories, reply will be an emphatic NO. Those who have remained confined to their respective circles, big or small, are no doubt part of the larger picture, but their existence has never been a fount of inspiration to human civilisation. If we have made any progress over last several thousand years, it has been achieved only due to those who dared to come out of narrow confines, who refused to be blind-folded forever like the ox in the oil-mill, and those who chose to go on uncharted paths. I would like to quote a few lines from my favorite poem by Robert Frost- “Two roads diverged in the woods/ I took the one, less travelled by/ and it made all the difference”.
Hillary and Norgey did reach atop Mt. Everest, but what did they achieve by it? There was no hidden treasure on the peak; no rare jewels were to be found there. But their expedition did serve to unfold a number of hidden meanings. Who could have better understood the meaning of being alone on the top than this duo? Isn’t it in-built in the pains suffered in a difficult journey on a rough terrain that a life isn’t exactly bed of roses? Doesn’t an arduous journey undertaken by two persons- one a white-skinned sahib from New Zealand, another a poor labourer from a small village in Nepal- prove that after a point, nation, religion, language, colour of skin, and gender, all lose their relevance? It would rather be more correct to say that they are always irrelevant and meaningless, but such journeys help us to see them still clearly. What else this successful expedition did was that thousands of young persons were encouraged to shed their fears and hitch and go out to explore new horizons- From Norbu, Kohli, Ahluwalia, Bachendri Pal and Santosh Yadav to this sixteen-year-old girl. Let it be remembered that this story dates back to the era when there was no Guinness Book of Records. Those early explorers were quite different from those who undertake such missions for material gains. Mt. Everest expedition was not a game sponsored by a TV channel or a liquor company. There may be momentary thrill and self-satisfaction in the gimmicks being performed these days and new records being set everyday, but the seed of inspiration is not there. The way these games are shown on TV screen leads in no time to boredom and indifference. The acrobatics showed in a circus look more real and lively, perhaps because the anguish of life is evident in them.
Today we salute Sir Edmund Hillary and send him our best wishes. We also remember Sherpa Tenzing Norgey from the depths of our hearts, and would like to hope that young people not only in India, but also all over the world will take inspiration from this saga. If there is any meaning of this golden jubilee day, it is that young ones should say good-bye to despair and dejection; and putting aside all differences of race, colour, language, gender and nationhood should strive to conquer hitherto unreached summits of human civilisation.
Mt. Everest may inspire us, again and again.
Originally written in Hindi. First Published in Deshbandhu, Raipur on 29th may 2003.
Reproduced on the 60th anniversary of that historic day.
Reproduced on the 60th anniversary of that historic day.