Book: Higher Than Everest – Memoirs of a Mountaineer; Author: Major HPS Ahluwalia; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 290; Price: Rs 695/$20
For one who was not even a teenager when Major H.P.S. Ahluwalia was one of the nine Indians atop Mount Everest on May 29, 1965, the second and enlarged edition of his “Higher Than Everest” was a double delight as it enabled one relive the adventure and travel with him on the prolonged painful recovery from a battlefield spinal injury on September 30 the same year to the realisation of his ultimate dream: The creation of New Delhi’s premier Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.
Originally published in 1973, with a Foreword by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the second edition has three additional chapters with a wealth of inspiring insights and a host of new photographs of Ahluwalia’s activities in the 40-plus years since the book was first published.
Ahluwalia gets rather philosophical in writing about the 12,000 km Silk Route Expedition in five Indian-made vehicles that was eight years in the making and which was undertaken because he wanted to know “what lies on the other side of the mountain”.
“Now, when I sit back in the recess of my garden and contemplate the experience, I wonder what was it that originally propelled me to stalk the path of merchant adventurers like Marco Polo and countless others from the annals of history who have now been forgotten. Why did I want to trek along the pilgrims’ path — the road which Padmasambhava took to spread the light of Buddhism and the road along which Fa-Hien and Hiuen-Tsang travelled barefoot in search of the sublime truth?”
The answer: “The mind now has peace and little or no restlessness. But I know that it is so only till yet another face of Mt. Everest presents itself to the mind!”
Ahluwalia is justifiably proud of the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.
“Today, the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre is a landmark healthcare institute at par with the best in the world. We provide comprehensive medical care of the highest international standards and conduct some of the most advanced surgeries performed anywhere in the world. We have revolutionised the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord injuries. For me, personally, it is the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream.
Ahluwalia is full of praise for his wife.
“My wife, Bholi, has over the years rendered unstinting support and dedicated herself to the fulfilment of my dream project. She has been a pillar of strength in giving a concrete shape to my dream and vision. She has made an invaluable contribution in conceptualising the interiors of the building. It is largely her penchant for an elegant, sobre decor and her sharp eye for detail that has given ISIC a most enviable ambience.”
The best is reserved for the last.
“The physical conquest of a mountain is, I think, only part of the achievement. More than that, it is a sense of fulfilment, of satisfaction of that deep urge within every man which impells him to rise above his environment. It is part of the eternal quest for adventure, the passion for exploring the hazardous and the unknown. The experience is not only physical, it is also intensely emotional and even spiritual,” Ahluwalia writes in “The Summit Within”, the concluding and the third additional chapter.
“Once on the top, you look around you. Other silvery peaks appear through the clouds. If you are lucky, you may find the sun shining on them and turning them into so many jewelled necklaces around the mountain. Below you are vast valleys, sloping away in the distance as far as the eye can reach. It is an uplifting, ennobling experience. Carried away by all the beauty and the glory of the panorama surrounding you, you bow down and make your obeisance to whichever god you worship,” the author, who left on Everest a picture of Guru Nanak, writes.
“I venture to think that my experience as an Everest climber has provided much of the inspiration to face life’s ordeals resolutely. If climbing the mountain was a worthwhile achievement, would it be an exaggeration to describe the conquest of the ‘internal’ summit as something higher than Everest?”
The first edition was a phenomenal success, ran into several reprints, was translated into major Indian languages and was adapted for a children’s book for compulsory reading in classes V, VI and VII. The Russian translated edition sold 50,000 copies in seven days. The second edition has all the chances of an encore.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)