Entry to Write India 2

27 August 2017. This is post 2. And rather than a lesson, this is a piece of fiction that I am writing as an entry to Write India 2. The prompt by Ruskin Bond is, "I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop." 

This was triggered by SN. In case you are reading this, where's your entry, young woman? 

Here goes... 

“Life’s funny. You spend your entire life chasing something and when you actually get to it, you don’t want it. You know, you’re like that kid at a carnival who wants sugar candy trapped in the glass jar. The jar looks as intimidating as those tall buildings that you crane your neck to stare at when you are going past by them. The jar has walls as thick as the reading glasses of your school’s headmaster and it has a screw-lid that takes forever to uncork and open. And its stacked so far that you have to perk up on your toes and because you are just a kid, you can barely reach the height of the shelf and all you can do is, stare at it with greedy eyes. And when after all the effort and coercion, the old shopkeeper hands you the candy, you don’t want it! Kids are really funny!” Manas drawled over the sound of ice-cubes clinking against the whiskey glass.

Surbhi instinctively looked at Mira. 

Mira was oblivious to the conversation between Surbhi and Manas. At the other end of the room, she was busy sorting a pack of Cadbury Gems into tiny stacks -- each stack made up of little marbles of same color -- with as much attention a 6-year old could muster. She was born in a different era to know of the glass jars that Manas was talking about. 

Surbhi turned back her gaze towards Manas. She had nothing to add here. She was meeting Manas after almost 10 years and so much had changed, except the glass of whiskey in his hand and the long-drawn narratives. 

When Manas had called her out of the blue, she had initially said no. When he insisted, she reluctantly accepted the invitation for a lunch. After all she had to know what had made Manas walk out on her in the middle of the night without any explanation. And Manas just didn't walk out on their marriage, he left behind a friendship of more than 15 years! 

They've been at it for more than 2 hours now and the conversation did not seem to be going anywhere. She was beginning to question her judgment. And since she had got Mira along, she was worried if the 6-year old should be around the obvious alcoholic - he’d been drinking before they had arrived and not for a minute had left his whiskey glass alone.

Manas did not think enough of Surbhi’s silence. He continued, “You know, they say that more than 80% of Earth’s surface has been transformed by humans? The only places untouched are the mountains. And you know the tallest mountain that we are yet to set our feet on? The Gangkhar!"

Manas was talking about Gangkhar Puensum. Standing at an Elevation of 7570 meters on the Bhutan-China border, it's the highest peak still that is yet to be conquered. As with all mountains, the Gangkhar was shrouded in mystery, partly because the locals held a strong belief that the holy spirits of their Gods reside at the Gangkhar and the spirits wrecked havoc to any attempts to climb the mountain and disturb their sanctity.

This was the first time she was hearing the name of the place. But she could immediately see that the Gangkhar, whatever it was, was bothering Manas. She knew of his lifelong obsession with mountaineering and while in pursuit of his obsession, he’d often ignored other, far more important things, including Surbhi.

She merely said, “Interesting. Want to tell me more?”

Manas got up from his recliner, hobbled to a bookshelf that was overflowing with books and papers and other curios. He winced with pain but reached out to an upper shelf and after moving a couple of books and some papers, he pulled out a thin folder. The red cover had a photograph of a snow-clad mountain and a scroll in Japanese at the bottom. He thrust it towards Surbhi.

He said, “You see this? This is a memoir by one of the Japanese mountaineers who was part of the group that did everything they could to climb the Gangkhar. They tried for almost a decade. He says that even if political sanctions were lifted, Gangkhar would still remain unconquered. Its tougher than anything else. Everest is like a stroll in the park, in comparison. One side of Gangkhar is a sheer fall into a glacier; The other side has knife-edged ridges, a cover of unstable snow and spiky pinnacles. It's the ultimate test of a climber's skill and ambition.”

Even though they’ve been friends since school, lovers since their college and married for three years, she never really had any interest in his passion, except when one fine day he announced that he was going to give Everest a shot.

He continued, “The locals say that the holy spirits of their Gods live on the Gangkhar and since the Gods want to rest in peace, they've forbid any humans to come close. Each expedition has met with unfortunate accidents that cant be explained. And apart from this thin memoir, there are hardly any records or even maps of the place! It remains out of reach. Its the place that everyone has on their bucket list. Its something, Surbhi, that I have to conquer before anyone else does. I want to show to the world what real mountaineering is. Everest is bullshit. This is the real deal!”

He was beginning to get agitated. Surbhi instinctively glanced at Mira and to her relief she was now lying on a rug in front of the television and was watching an episode of Tom and Jerry. The pack of Gems was now missing, most probably she had eaten them all. 

When not around Manas, Surbhi was known for her fierce reporting and uncompromising journalistic ethos. She was the undisputed queen of the investigative, political reportage. She’s has had a couple of really big scoops already and the third was going to press later in the week. With the latest one about rich hiring wombs for progeny, her editor was sure that Surbhi will bring home a Pulitzer for Investigative Journalism - the only major award that had eluded her in a 15-year long career.

Career was something that Manas was not exactly proud of. He had little to show for his age except multiple stabs at various peaks - all of them unsuccessful. And like all others that had seen limited success, he made barely enough to scrape by. Since he lived in the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering campus at Uttarakhand and worked as an instructor for the Search and Rescue module, he could keep the passion going and expenses low.

"Everest is bullshit, Surbhi. Its just a huge selfie opportunity! All those 4000 people that have reached the summit in last 50 years? All of them are fucking tourists with no spine." Manas continued his monologue.

Surbhi was used to these monologues. She knew that since veteran trekkers and mountaineers spent a lot of time by themselves when they out and about, they often have this need to keep talking when they do get company. No wonder they make such good speakers!

“You remember my greatest ambition? The lofty goal? To climb the Mount freaking Everest. I wasted 12 years of my life. Saving for it. Preparing for it. And what do I have to show for it? Couple of attempts that failed -- I did not even reach Camp 3. Some broken bones, 2 missing fingers on the toe, and the damn thumb!” Manas nodded at his left hand that was pretty much useless, now that the thumb was gone. He still had a formidable grip on ropes and but that's all that he was left to without the thumb.

Surbhi stared at the ominous looking hand. She did not understand what made people chase mountaineering when it was so fraught with danger. She also realized that with that missing thumb, Manas will probably never get another shot at any mountain, leave alone the Gangkhar or the Everest. 

“And why did I fail? Because I fought with the company that controls the rights to all the ladders and ropes and oxygen that they put on the climbing route at the Everest! They have a climbing route Surbhi. Its like a highway. All you need to do is hold the rope and walk behind the guy in front of you."

Surbhi thought Manas was being that sour whiner that he had become in the last few months of their relationship. In fact it was his constant whining and baseless accusations against the world that had hastened their separation. She was beginning to regret her decision to come meet Manas; Thankfully, Mira was still engrossed in the cartoon.

“I hate that piece of useless rock. That's what it is. A giant useless rock. It's been romanticized for no reason. Ok, it was tough when Edmund and Tenzing went to the top. It was tough for the next few years or so when people found new route, new trails, new paths to the top. But now it's like walking on crowded subway. Messner says, ‘Like in Kindergarten, they go on Everest now.’ Thing is, its been bastardized. Its become a commercial pursuit. The way you can buy a ticket to the top of Eiffel Tower, today you can buy a damn ticket to the top of the Everest and come back with all the bragging rights in the world. Its just another selfie moment. They have no respect for the pursuit. They don't care about the ones who've tried in the past. You know the ones who die trying to climb the Everest? The path to the summit is littered with them. Some are used as milestones and landmarks. There is no respect in ‘doing’ the Everest. It's a sport for the rich. You pay money and you get ropes and ladders and oxygen.”

Manas was now almost yelling. He had all the anger pent-up and no place to let go. The only two people he could call of his own were Surbhi and Mira. He wasn't too fond of Mira -- she was born to Surbhi’s second husband.

“What pride would you get if you are merely adding your name to a long list of people who have done something before you? You are a nameless, faceless statistic. You don't move things forward like that. You have to pave new paths. Create new things. Gangkhar is what they ought to do if mountaineering is their thing,” he scorned. He continued, “Its tough and its remote and its cold. There is no highway to walk on, there are no Sherpas to walk ahead and put the ropes! There are no maps either! That's what a real man would do. That's what I wanted to do. Before… before... ” his voice trailed off and he stared at his hand.

Surbhi now had an inkling what went wrong with them! Unlike the rest of the world, the guy had his priorities clear but he had chosen a track that was going to be as tough as, well, climbing the mountain. The closure that Surbhi had wanted was just around the corner.

“I did not know about it when I started thinking about it. More I read about, more fascinated I got. I am so sorry I ignored you, Surbhi. I shouldn't have left you that night. But if I didn't, I could never have taken that shot at the Gangkhar. It was my life, Surbhi. Not you. Gangkhar."

With that, he started crying. 

For someone like Manas, who had held his head high and resolve higher, this was a rare display of emotion. And Surbhi knew that he was accepting defeat probably for the first time. This was not the Manas that Surbhi had made friends with all those years ago. Rather than seeing a rock-solid man that she had loved once upon a time, she was now looking at a man frail with age and burden of loss on the shoulders. 

In a different time, Surbhi could've been angry about the way Manas left. But now, she had her daughter, her career and the question she needed an answer to, she had it. She was surprised that she had remained calm and all she felt was a bit of pity towards him. 

Surbhi leaned in closer. She said, “Manas, I am not sure what to say. I am really sorry for this. It was important to you. You did it. But now that it has happened, can you do something about it?"

He looked up. “Not really, Surbhi. But wish I could play God and do something about it, Surbhi. I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop.” He paused to empty the contents of his glass. “You know to when? To just before when Edmund and Tenzing decided that they were going to climb the Everest!” and with that, he flung the empty glass at the wall that was decorated with a giant photograph of the Mount Everest shining in its glory. 

The End.

No comments:

The Nidhi Kapoor Story

Did you like this post? May be you want to read my first book - The Nidhi Kapoor Story.

Check it out on Amazon or Flipkart?