(October 2021 is the Silver Anniversary month of TheThinkClub. We’ll be publishing the best of TheThinkClub throughout this quarter.)
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was the first person to climb Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953. He went up the mountain as a common man, but he returned as a hero – the first hero I ever knew.
I was seven years old then. Unlike today’s manufactured heroes, he was not imposed upon me as a role model. He didn’t make statements by wearing ribbons nor was he promoted by any special interest group. He was a mortal figure of supreme significance to me.
At the age of seven, I had just started shedding my innocence and started to think on my own. I came to know for the first time that my real mother had died when I was only six months old and the only loving parents I knew until then were, actually, my uncle and aunt. Growing up with my aunt and uncle was the happiest time of my life. I lived in a village about 100 miles from Mount Everest. On a clear day, one could see the cap of Everest from there.
Ours was a crowded place. We had lots of visitors as both my uncle and aunt were extremely gregarious people. They used to accommodate and feed everyone. I was a happy child. Everyone in the village loved and protected me. Whenever I needed shoes, I just ran to the village cobbler and got a pair made for myself. My uncle and aunt used to give them grain in return. Watching the jugglers come to the village or listening to the movie songs on the deafening amplifiers of a passing procession was the only entertainment. My friends and I would sneak out of home and jump streams and climb trees. We ran for miles or went to the graveyard in the hope of catching ghosts and then return home to a warm meal. The grains and vegetables came from our farm and the fresh catch from our own pond.
Tenzing came from a large family in a village in Nepal. He was considered a lucky baby as the family crossed many hurdles after his birth. His childhood house was small and crowded. They ate the simplest food, but there was always enough. His family made clothing from yak wool and hides to keep warm during the winter. He had a very happy childhood until he came to know that his parents wanted him to become a lama (a Buddhist priest).He believed in Chomolungma (a Tibetan expression meaning to climb Everest or a mountain so high that no bird could fly over it) and that’s what he did his whole life. Tenzing knew the dangers of climbing Everest. Thousands of Sherpas had perished in helping the mountaineers climb Everest. Tenzing later took Indian citizenship. When asked about his nationality, he said, “I was born in the womb of Nepal and brought up in the lap of India. I am both a Nepali and an Indian.
I never met Tenzing in person, but I remember his confident smile and his rugged but kind face. His personality had a unique combination of western squint and eastern immaculateness. After leaving my village, I always felt like a caged bird that had lost its freedom. I thought of Tenzing when yearning for freedom. We had a similar childhood, happy and full of innocence.
I left my childhood home and lived in many places because my father had a transferable job. Now I live in the U.S. Although I am an Indian by birth, I am also an American. Climbing Everest those days was much more dangerous than space travel. Unlike space travel, the climbers were on their own without any guidance. They had to face deadly avalanches and blinding blizzards. They spent nights on sheets of ice in sub-zero temperatures. Every step taken could mean death. If they slipped on the sharp-pointed icy slopes, they could slide hundreds of feet before regaining a foothold. At times they would be in a free fall, flying headfirst down the mountain. But Tenzing didn’t care. He only dreamed of Chomolungma.
Tenzing had three lives. The first was as a child in Nepal in the village of Solo Khumbu. The second, lasting twenty years, was as a porter and mountain man. The third began on the day he came back from the top of Everest.Like Tenzing, I also have lived three lives. My childhood was as described above. The next twenty years were terrible. I was removed from the loving home of my uncle and aunt. Although I was provided a better material comfort in my father’s home, emotional comfort was lacking.
Tenzing had to lead a tough life in Darjeeling, India as he had to compete against many famous Sherpas, who had already made their names in the world of mountaineering. Tenzing saw trains and automobiles for the first time in his life.
I too was like a new Sherpa in my father’s home. I saw many modern amenities for the first time and was often compared to more sophisticated relatives and children of the friends of the family. I had to prove my worth. Tenzing’s life and struggle inspired me and gave me the needed jolt. As for the third phase of my life, I still have to climb my brand of Everest. My Chomolungma is to be a good writer.
Tenzing had no formal training in mountaineering. I am an engineer by profession. English is my second language. I have to face the avalanche in the form of rejections, a blizzard in the form of competition, and falling rocks in the form of meager resources. But my first hero taught me that I should pursue my passion for the love of Chomolungma. I have to keep climbing and not worry about coming down to mortal glory.
Footnote:Colonel Sir George Everest (July 4, 1790 — December 1, 1866) was a Welsh surveyor and geographer, and the Surveyor-General of India from 1830 through 1843. Everest was largely responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India along the meridian arc from Southern India extending north to Nepal, a distance of about 2,400 kilometers (1,500 mi). This survey was started by William Lambton in 1806 and it lasted for several decades. In 1865, Mount Everest was named in his honor in the English language despite his objections by the Royal Geographical Society. This enormous peak was surveyed by Everest’s successor, Andrew Scott Waugh, in his role as the Surveyor-General of India. Everest was born in Gwernvale Manor, just west of Crickhowell in Powys, Wales, in 1790, and he was baptized in Greenwich. Commissioned into the Royal Artillery, in 1818, Lt. Everest was appointed as assistant to Colonel William Lambton, who had started the Great Trigonometrical Survey of the subcontinent in 1806. On Lambton’s death in 1823, Everest succeeded to the post of superintendent of the survey, and in 1830 he was appointed as the Surveyor-General of India. Everest retired in 1843 and he returned to live in the United Kingdom, where he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was dubbed a knight in 1861, and in 1862 he was elected as the vice-president of the Royal Geographical Society. Everest died in London in 1866 and is buried in St Andrew’s Church, Hove, near Brighton.