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,ย 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.ย 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 ๐Ÿ™‚


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?ย  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 โ€“ 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?

Young India Fellowship selection experience

I applied for Young India Fellowship 2017-18 batch in the 1st round of admissions. First step was online application. It had questions regarding personal details, academics, work experience, extra curricular and family. It had three essays. Essays were about one thing that matters most to me, my biggest accomplishment so far and things that I want to accomplish from the fellowship. It asked for details of one referee who could either be my Professor or Manager with whom I worked earlier. I submitted my application on 19th Dec, the last date of submission for 1st round of admissions.
Six weeks later, I got an email informing my selection for the next stage which was telephonic interview. I received the call on the aforementioned date. The interviewer asked me questions related to the books I mentioned in my application. He gazed my knowledge about the fellowship program. It was followed by few general knowledge questions about my hometown. The call ended within 15 minutes. It felt more of a stress interview. I confirmed with my interviewer if my application was being considered in the 1st round of admissions or the 2nd round since I received the email from them past the deadline of 1st round. It turned out that this year they had received multitude of applications which caused the delay.
Three weeks from my telephonic interview, I received an email confirming my selection for the personal interview. I had my interview in Bangalore. I reached the venue, an Oyo flat, around 11 A.M. I was given a writing assignment. It had an argument on creativity. I had to analyze and write my opinion on the same in 30 minutes. Almost 1 hour post the writing task, I was called in for the interview. I had two interviewers. Professor Anunaya Chaubey who dons multiple hats – an artist, a teacher and Deputy Dean of Young India Fellowship. He was accompanied by a previous batch Young India Fellow. She was working as a curriculum designer for an organization. ๐Ÿ™‚ My interview began with a long discussion over my writing assignment. It led to Professor Chaubey asking me to define creativity. Then we shifted to my work in Morgan Stanley. We also discussed topics around the books I had read. They wanted to know about things I was doing during my sabbatical from work. Few questions were asked related to the fellowship and my plans. My interview got over in less than 20 minutes. I felt comfortable about the interview except for its duration.
Anyway, 6 weeks from the interview, I received an email congratulating me for my selection for the 2017 batch of Young India Fellowship. Happiness ๐Ÿ™‚

P.S.: I accepted the fellowship ๐Ÿ™‚