Remembering My Friend Malli

06/05/2015 11:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
SAM PANTHAKY via Getty Images
Indian mountaineer Malli Mastan Babu (C) poses with children in Ahmedabad on November 29, 2009, following a morale run with some 125 underpriviledged children and women. The 34-year old is the only South Asian to have scaled the seven highest mountain peaks in a record 172 days in 2006. AFP PHOTO/ Sam PANTHAKY (Photo credit should read SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

"Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air." - John Quincy Adams

We do not get to have control over our birth but some dare death in the pursuit of a passion. It is a difficult yet vital way to live. The treacherous terrain of the Andes and nature's fury may have brought Malli Mastan Babu's life to an end but he was--and is - more than a mere mortal to the millions of hearts he touched during the 40 years of his life's expedition. He was not a man of many words but his signature smile spoke volumes.

The rich legacy of achievement he leaves behind will last for generations. He was a legend while living and a legend he shall remain. He embraced and endured a tough life to test his own limits. He didn't simply walk the talk - he ran it and he scaled it to greater heights.

Those agonising 11 days when he was missing kept our hopes alive. Our hearts were not ready to accept anything but good news, but our rational minds feared the worst. After all, we are talking here about the arid Atacama Desert which is unlike any other in terms of its topography. You won't even find cacti or lizards, and the weather on the summit is perennially - 25°C. On the fateful day he set off for the last time, no meteorologist, let alone Malli, could have predicted that the anticipated bad weather would turn to that which had not experienced in over 40 years. One cold comfort is that at least we know what happened to him. In many cases, the bodies of missing climbers are not found for years or even decades. Sometimes, they are never found at all.

"He was a wanderer with a boundless free spirit. As a child, he would bunk school and venture out to the hills near his village."

Malli had great respect for nature and always vowed to preserve it. He was a wanderer with a boundless free spirit. As a child, he would bunk school and venture out to the hills near his village. His parents were at their wits end and wanted to send him to a boarding school where he couldn't get up to "mischief". But fate had a different path in store for him. Malli and I spent seven long formative years together in Sainik School, where military discipline is the norm. Even there he would get into trouble for swimming and teaching our classmates in scenic green field wells. He'd scale trees or go tapping for toddy... those were memorable years filled with adventure.

In hindsight, the future had already cast a shadow. His mountaineering inspiration was Lt. M. Uday Bhaskar Rao, one of our school seniors who lost his life while climbing Mount Everest in 1985, the same year we joined Sainik School. I vividly remember Malli just gazing at the memorial statue of Rao in our school. He'd taken an oath to climb Mt Everest but for a while his path took a more conventional direction. He completed his Bachelor's degree in engineering at NIT, then postgraduate degrees at the prestigious IIT and IIM. After attending these illustrious institutions, he went on to work in the corporate sector for three years. Through all of these years, though, the mountains never stopped beckoning him.

In 2006, he earned his place in the Guinness World Record for conquering seven summits in seven continents in 172 days. He would have made even better time had he not been constrained by stringent visa requirements which required him to return home after completing each summit instead of directly moving to the next one. Still, seven was Malli's lucky number. In his own words: "I am the only person in the world to climb each of the 7 summits on 7 different days of the week; I also summited each mountain in 7 different calendar months..."

"It is not too late for anyone to take stock of their own life situation - for inspiration all you need to do is read Malli story."

There are so many stories about Malli and how he impacted lives of people around the world. He was a Good Samaritan for sure. Here's just one example that comes to mind: He came to the rescue of an American woman who had been robbed of her belongings and money while trekking in the Himalayas. She was so grateful that she opened up her place in the US to Malli as his second home. Upon hearing of his death, this close friend flew to India to support his family. There are people mourning his passing in every corner of the globe, from Colombia to Tanzania. He didn't just make friends, he made family.

It is time for the Indian media to rethink its focus on celebrities and cricketers and also highlight an honorable private citizen's life. It was like moving a mountain for his associates just to make the media bring his heroic story to the live news cycle.

Here it makes sense to share the story of his name - Mastan. The local belief in his native Nellore is that all those who wish to have a baby go on a pilgrimage and worship the Mastan Sahib Dargah and name their child after him. The secular values and beliefs embodied in Malli Mastan's name were reflected in his deeds and actions. He was a man of faith certainly as he was carrying rudraksha beads and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita with him. He took the Indian flag to so many heights, made so many personal sacrifices.

malli mastan babu

He was not just a mammoth mountaineer or motivational speaker but a great role model for anyone aspiring to change their own life's road map. It is not too late for anyone to take stock of their own life situation - for inspiration all you need to do is read Malli story in totality.

I end this eulogy quoting his own words after the loss of one of our seniors, Colonel M.S.N. Reddy in the tragic helicopter crash that also took life of then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Dr YSR Reddy: "Sometimes it's hard to know which is more tragic - The loss of a young life or the loss to those surviving; either way its heart wrenching!"

Veer Malikireddy, class mate of Malli Mastan Babu, Sainik School Korukonda, A.P.- 1985-1992

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