Trekking with the legend – Padma Shri Bachendri Pal Madam


Some things we never imagine in life, not even in our wildest dreams. Trekking with Padma Shri Bachendri Pal Madam was one such thing for me. It just happened.

During Young India Fellowship program, I got the opportunity to work on a project with TSAF, Tata Steel Adventure Foundation. Since the historical ascent of Mt. Everest in 1984, Bachendri Madam heads TSAF.

As part of the project, I, along with my two teammates, visited TSAF’s camp site in Uttarkashi for 3 days. Bubbling with excitement, we started our journey at 5 on a November morning from Delhi. After an exhausting day, we reached the camp site in darkness. Hemant, our Project head, introduced us to Bachendri Madam right before dinner. Well, I was no longer tired.

During dinner, we found out that there was a leadership course going on for a group of Tata employees. They were going for a 3 days trek. Bachendri Madam was also going with the group. We were supposed to accompany them on their first day. A trek with Bachendri Madam! It couldn’t get any better.

Next morning, we began the trek. Initially, we all started together but later my teammates, new to trekking, decided to slow down. To keep the interview going, I went ahead with Madam. I had already read her biography ‘Everest – My Journey to the Top’ and accounts of her other expeditions. But nothing could compare to listening to her experiences in her presence. It was a privilege.

Madam talked about her humble beginnings, her 1984 Everest expedition. I imagined the young Bachendri Madam in my mind; an ambitious young lady with nerves of steel. She attributed her success in life to the values given by her parents.

Bachendri Madam showed remarkable integrity from young age. On her successful ascent of Everest in 1984, she was showered with lucrative job offers. Everyone, be it government or private, wanted her in their organization. But Bachendri Madam chose to stay with Tata. In her own words, “Tata supported me when nobody knew me”.

After successful summit of Everest, Madam set up TSAF from scratch. She visited leadership schools outside India, did courses and learned from their experience. She overcame every challenge to build TSAF.

In my conversation with Bachendri Madam, I found a lady who was way ahead of her time. In spite of education and resistance from society, she chose a career in mountaineering at a time when people didn’t consider anything, except teaching, as a profession for women. She stood against evils of society from time to time. She faced the wrath of Indian society when she stood by the family of lovers boycotted by her village. She raised her voice against the suffocating norms of Indian society to help others. She successfully led all women Indo-Nepalese Everest Expedition in 1993 against the doubts of everyone. Her Trans Himalaya expedition, traversing Himalayas from Arunachal to Siachen, was an exemplary feat. Madam proved her mettle again and again.

In the evening, while talking to the two Everest trainees, Poonam and Swarnalata, I got a glimpse of Bachendri Madam’s impact in young people’s lives. As told by Poonam and Swarnalata, “We knew nothing. Bachendri Madam taught us how to talk, how to eat, how to take care of ourselves and how to be a good mountaineer, during our time in Everest Base Camp. She fed us with love when we visited her home.”. The girls were focused and excited for their impending training in Argentina in January.

The next morning, Poonam, Swarnalata and I trekked till near by Damini Top. We went running, singing old hindi songs and returned in half ‘n hour.

As I parted ways with Bachendri Madam, I couldn’t stop smiling. I’ll remember her 🙂


A Presentation to Remember

The topic was partial review of contents of Dennis Dalton’s book: Gandhi’s Power. Teams of 10 or more members had to present the content. There was no restriction on number of members involved in presentation from a group, though it was to be graded as a group assignment.

A group came to present on the idea of Satyagraha. Everyone from the group was involved in the presentation. Most of the members explained via dialogue with slides in the background. Meanwhile, one member kept making a painting on the side of the stage. At the end of the presentation, audience asked questions to the team. The painter person explained the expression of truth through his painting and also commented on the painting being a medium to make memory of that presentation.

Well, I was left to wonder the last time I had seen such a presentation. I’ve presented and also attended presentations in academics as well as corporate settings. Why a presentation has to be few slides explained in a certain way? In real world, we are often working with people than as individuals. We all are more than just a particular title or role. More often than not, we are a mixture of interests. For example, a person is a mathematician with interest in football or a person is a teacher with interest in music. And no matter how hard we try to act as machines, as if we care about one thing only, we tend to get affected by different things. So why not give space to people to bring all their colors into work?  Even if we account for time and focus, isn’t the aim of presentation an honest engagement of both the parties? Why do we force people to see things in a certain way? Why not see the concerned issue in the light of varied perspectives? Won’t it give a better idea? Won’t it actually include people? We often force kids and people to fit into a certain pattern and lens of expressing and looking at things. But it often kills people’s desire to contribute and also degrades their contribution quality. What if we include the diverse perspectives of people to solve our problems? What if we give space to people to bring the variety of ideas to the table – not only in the way we are used to?

Of course there may be scenarios where it’s not possible due to constraints of time as it often happens in work settings. But surprisingly a space for such presentations and engagement is absent in most of the times even in the academic settings.

What does your experience say? Have you ever tried or witnessed something like this in presentations?

DIY Diaries

Few days back, I was browsing online to buy a beautiful diary for birthday present to my sister. I found some designs that I liked. But nothing called out for ‘That’s it’. Then suddenly a thought struck, ‘Why not make a diary myself’. (Another way out could have been to get a customized diary but naah!) So I began with left out white sheets of old half used notebooks. I used water colors, doodle art, ribbons, woolen thread and basic stationery. In next 2-3 days, I made 3 diaries – everything from scratch.

Here are the diaries I made in the order of making.

Diary 1:


Diary 2:


Diary 3:


Cutting sheets to make pages of diary was a task. But I loved the outcome, more so for the novice I am with water colors and doodle art. I hope these would make a nice birthday present. Which one do you like the most? 🙂


A soldier fighting on the border
With meager supplies and weight on his shoulders
But he keeps battling the enemies
It’s the hope to see his loved ones post the adversary

A mountaineer crawling on the edge of the cliff
Stuck in the unforeseen blizzard, her oxygen subtracting drip by drip
But she keeps pushing through the odds on her way
It’s the hope to stand at the top that makes her stay

A sportsman beating at his craft in the field
Gasping for breath with pain in his knees
But he keeps trying amidst the uproar from the critics
It’s the hope to bag a medal for his people by the blue Pacific

A parent trying to make the ends meet
Hiding his fears and ignoring his own dreams
But he keeps doing the small things day after day
It’s the hope to see smile on his children’s face

A shy girl standing in front of the mic
Filled with inhibitions and musings about what is right
But she keeps trying her best to perform
It’s the hope to touch few hearts that keeps her strong

Child Sexual Abuse – Myths vs Facts

Generally anything involving the word ‘sex’ is considered taboo in our society. So why this post on such a topic? Well, recently I interacted with someone who has done her Masters in Psychology during which she worked on studying child sexual abuse in India. She is not from India. This came as a boon since her observations were devoid of the prejudices and stereotypes of our society. The insights that I gained from her study challenged many of my perceptions I had on this subject. So here is a highlight of them.

Defining what constitutes child sexual abuse is not as easy as it may appear at first glance. But in the context of this post, it’s not crucial to define child sexual abuse formally. Still if you want to know, child sexual abuse as defined by 1999 W.H.O. (World Health Organizations) Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention states it as mentioned below.

Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person.

In our society, we face child sexual abuse in two forms. One is the case of child trafficking carried with the intent of sexual exploitation. In such a scenario, we can’t play a major role unless we choose to become a part of the system/organizations fighting this problem since it’s a highly organized activity involving many socioeconomically powerful people. The other scenario involves the sexual abuse that happens in places as common as households with the children we may know. This is where we (yes! you and I) can play a crucial role in being part of the solution.

Here are few things that I found out which busted some myths and highlighted some reasons.

In India, among sexually abused children, nearly half of them are boys. It’s not something that happens to girls only. So we need to watch out for our boys as well. Bottom line is any child can be a target.

In our culture, we have this unsaid rule that elders are always right. We emphasize this even more to the kids. This adds fuel to the problem of child sexual abuse. Even a young kid has an intuition of safe and unsafe touch. But when an elder, who is not a stranger, does something to children that they don’t understand but which doesn’t feel good, they are left puzzled with the experience. The emphasis that we give to people’s righteousness based on their age often becomes one of the reasons why children don’t talk about the abuse to anyone.

One of the myths is that pedophiles are always child sexual abusers. This may sound too advanced to talk about in our society but I’ll take a shot. Pedophilia is a psychological disorder where an adult feels attracted towards children sexually. But this doesn’t make them an abuser. In fact some of the people suffering from pedophilia know that it’s wrong and try not to feel that way. Though there is hardly any support available for such people. The literature shows that more than half of the child sexual abusers are not pedophiles and many of the pedophiles never molest any kid.

Lastly, we don’t need to make the child feel like a victim by giving all the pitiful attention. That’s unwanted and unnecessary. Just let them know that it wasn’t their fault and help them move on from it.

Also don’t overhype this. Just inform the kids basic things like they have a right to their body and they can say NO to elders if things don’t feel good. Keep a keen eye towards kids. Create an atmosphere where kids are able to talk about if anything bad happens to them.

A little awareness can save an individual from a lot of troubles in future.

Hope this helps 🙂

P.S.: If you have anything to share on this topic, then comment or reach out to me at