For critics, Nick should have held the ice-axe to his left, on the opposite side of that sheer cliff.
It was a narrow, winding route; besides, it had become a little mushy due to the sun, directly overhead, sneering at the snow on it. We had just scaled a Himalayan peak: Mt Renok, at 16,500ft; I and four of my friends – in north-east India – on a dreary spring morning. I was the leader of the trek; for they had been impressed by my vast experience in trekking the Western Ghats of India.
We began descending on the mountain, ecstatically, to reach our base camp at 10,000ft; fervent to deliver the news of our worthwhile adventure, to our trekking club – our sponsors – back in Mumbai. They had promised that they would be sponsoring three of us for an upcoming Everest expedition, on the successful completion of this trek.
In a tragic turn of events, however, from being the best contender for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to be on top of the Mt Everest – I end up jeopardizing, even my entire team’s kismet.
As soon as I’d placed my ice axe on that precarious surface, to my right, I sensed the onset of my fall. I had put a considerable amount of my body weight on it, already – the amount you do, when you have a total trust on something that it won’t give away. Perhaps, I was carefree from the rather smooth ascent.
I realized that I cannot undo it now. Each and every discreet moment – right from that gooey, snow surface giving way for me to fall to my death – unfolds, gaudily.
At the instant that I fell, I see disparate faces glaring at me, with the various contortions of fear on them. All the faces were those of my four friends, but, I’m unable to parse one from the other.
There is one image with a pair of broadened eyes, unblinking, with a starkly sagging facial expression. One with an extremely woeful face, perhaps realizing the grievous ending in store for me. And another one, at the onset of a loud shriek.
There is one more, vague image, which is difficult for me to comprehend.
I realize the remarkable feat of my brain – busy chronicling the events befalling a falling me, even while it is still exploring the best possible act for my survival; not that I required!
The human faces become obscure and finally fade away, giving way to the sky; and the brightly shining sun, unperturbed, and unconcerned by a one among the seven billion, tumbling to his death. There are a couple of tiny birds, gleefully chirping; and there is the chill of the wind, somehow piercing through my alpine jacket and the crampon-fitted snow shoes.
Certainly, there comes a moment in your life, when you get blown away; all the air inside of your lungs get sucked out. That is the moment when you see life itself, as it truly is; invitingly naked, devoid of any moral disguise. I was transformed in those few seconds of freefall. I saw life in its vivid glory; slyly unwrapping itself from the mask of the several dimensions of time.
Abruptly then, I hear a loud thud on my backpack, followed by an awful stream of pain flooding my hip. I lay on a hard surface, supine; my sensations gradually becoming numb.
Back in Mumbai, after about five months from the day that we had conquered Mt. Renok, I wish them luck, for the Everest expedition – Alex, Wejay and Christy – when they came to visit me. Zameer was at his home; he cannot join them as he had suffered a fractured leg from that day, while helping me get down the mountain safely. I was told by my doctor that it was the backpack that had saved my life – the couple of 100m ropes and the sleeping bag in it.
I take their leave and roll towards my bedroom on my wheel-chair. There, I reminisce on that fateful day, one last time.