|Volume 6 | Issue 07 | July 2012 ||
The climb of their lives
MOHAMMAD ISAM brings out what it took Nishat Majumder and Wasfia Nazreen to scale the Mount Everest and also what it symbolises to all women.
“Mortality had remained a conveniently hypothetical concept, an idea to ponder in the abstract. Sooner or later the divestiture of such a privileged innocence was inevitable, but when it finally happened the shock was magnified by the sheer superfluity of the carnage.”
In his gripping best-seller 'Into Thin Air', the gangly American author Jon Krakauer dispassionately sums up the 1996 Mount Everest disaster of which he was a part. Eight climbers died when a storm came out of nowhere to trigger the biggest catastrophe in the history of the highest mountain on earth.
Such books hardly make it to Bangladesh so when I spotted it in a souvenir shop in Pokhra, I had to dig in. Earlier that morning, coincidentally or because I was in Nepal, I had gone to Sarankot hill which overlooks Pokhra but is more popular as a viewing area to see the Annapurna range clearly. I quipped to a colleague that some people might actually be climbing one of the peaks despite their appearance to be floating in the cloud. I imagined how Musa Ibrahim had climbed Mount Everest and as I continued to read Krakauer's book, I realised that it was not as easy as the late George Mallory (“because it is there”) had said all those years ago.
Of course the 1996 disaster is an exception. Climbs end up successful with either reaching the peak or giving up at some point. Speaking of mortality, the fact that a climber can come out of Everest alive should be deemed successful but often times, the termination of the climb a few hundred meters from the peak is considered disastrous. So when we talk about the four Bangladeshis who have climbed Mount Everest over the last two seasons, we have to realise how lucky we are that, a) they climbed Mount Everest; b) they did not give up the mission while going up; c) apart from some minor injuries, they have come back as healthy as a mountaineer can. Even more remarkable for the country is the accomplishment of Nishat Majumder and Wasfia Nazreen, two women who achieved what is parochially considered a man's job.
But when you “attempt a summit” (climbers' speak), it does not matter whether you are from Bangladesh or whether you are a woman. Belief matters; and of course handling the thought that your death is very much a possibility: one misstep or a slip, if a hook does not place itself properly or by a quirk of nature in the vast whiteout what is the Everest. One must not forget altitude sickness which could incapacitate one's thinking severely as the climb extends itself vertically every day that they climb.
Wasfia and Nishat, and before them Musa and MA Mohit, have given countless interviews of their expeditions, talked about the scary moments, the near-death experiences, the sighting of a dead body (in the case of Wasfia who recognised the body of the maverick Scott Fisher) and what motivated them to take on such a mission.
So to borrow Mallory's famous jibe, one can try and understand the characters who have achieved what many would hardly dare think of. “Because it is there”, Mount Everest and the myriad of challenges are already present. It is the constant. The climb, therefore, is about the climber; how they do it and why they do it.
I would not say that it was tougher for Wasfia or Nishat, but I would definitely say that when they were up there, hardly anything less than the summit would have pleased them. Are they of the ambitious type? A climber who is not ambitious can probably be mourned rather than rejoiced.
Being the first person to have done so from Bangladesh, Musa has been the most talked about one. I have heard too many stories about the young man's attitude towards people while also heard a few gems about his preparation techniques. For nearly a decade, Musa apparently wrapped weights around his leg wherever he went. It was his way of training his legs never to give up during a climb. Mount Everest was Musa's greatest ambition and he completed it in 2011, despite running into serious trouble and being rescued by a fellow climber. As I have mentioned earlier, Musa's attitude has been questioned several times by many who feel he behaves like a celebrity. Among the million decisions a climber has to take in a summit-push like that of Everest, 90% are about him. So if selfish is a bad word, let all four of them bear one for the rest of their lives.
The climbing records of Musa, Mohit and Wasfia tell us that they are definitely determined to do so as long as their body allows. What is more fascinating is to see a quiet character like Nishat taking the big step. But it is only fascinating, not surprising. For someone with such a modest background as Nishat, it is only natural to have the desire to climb out of mediocrity and into the national consciousness. Bangladeshi climbers are the newest additions to the long history of those who achieved summiting the Everest. As a result, there is the usual clamour and ridiculous claims that we all love to make. It ultimately does not do any favours to anyone, least of all a nation that has achievers in the discipline of endurance.
It has happened elsewhere too, naysayers making a mockery of these characters who are not the typical or the usual. They need special handling and since such personalities are feted when they return from Everest, the next course of action should be to let them have a normal life because no matter how much they try, their lives will not be the same again.
Wasfia and Nishat have not just done women proud, they have continued the fight towards empowerment of women. As many would point out that it is merely symbolic, the struggle to the top itself should be a symbol that it is possible. In that way, they should be an inspiration to anyone who feels that it cannot get any worse.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter, The Daily Star.
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