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Posts Tagged ‘Nat Geo’

I hurtled around the two hundred metre track, as if my life was at stake. I had run two laps and there were eight more to go. There were fifty other competitors with me. And all of us were running under a scorching Bangalore Sun. Some like Hares and some like Tortoises. Eventually the Hares gave up one by one, a few at
lap number three, a few more at lap number four and a few, two or three laps later. But some of the Tortoises were gathering momentum. This was ‘do or die’.

The conditions were terrible. The weather was teasingly hot. The track was all sand. The dust repeatedly swirled into my eyes and nostrils. I sneezed and ran and then sneezed, sneezed and ran. My lungs were about to burst. My legs were about to be swallowed by the earth below. But I chugged along. Determined to breast the tape. I wasn’t going to give up. Never.

Six days prior to the race, I entered the “Nat Geo Everest Se Takkar” Contest. I saw the Contest telephone number being advertised on Television. I had tried calling the number a few times earlier, but never got through. This time I wasn’t going to give up. So I tried once more. A beautiful female voice
answered. I was told that it was the last day. Whew! Lady luck was smiling on me. It was a simple enough Tele Quiz. I answered correctly and three days later, saw an e-mail congratulating me on making it to the second round. My day had come. My dreams of climbing Mount Everest with the Indian Army, was no more on the distant horizon. It was at my doorstep and I wasn’t going to miss out on this mammoth opportunity. Especially after my application to an Everest Base Camp trek was turned down ten days earlier, by a prominent trekking organization, as the allotted seats were full.

Much before the appointed time, I was standing in a queue outside the playground where the event was schedule to start. I glanced ahead of me. There were thousands passionately waiting. Then I looked behind me. There were hundreds more joining the queue, by the second. We were scheduled to compete in five
rounds and each of them was an elimination round. At the end of the fifth round, five contestants from the thousands who had turned up would have been selected from Bangalore. They would then be joined by five each from Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. A seven day rigorous training program would then follow and the best five would accompany the Indian Army to the Everest Base Camp.

The atmosphere was electrifying. I let my eyes wander. Almost everybody was chatting about the event that would begin in the next few minutes. Thankfully a participant –standing before me – and I got into an animated discussion about Iraq and the hostile tactics of Gorge Bush and Tony Blair. Suddenly, the gates
flew open and we were sent in one by one. After the mandatory registration procedures, we were all given chest numbers and divided into groups of fifty. The first event of the day – and the second round – was a ten lap race around a two hundred metre track.

So there I was running around the track, huffing and puffing. Thoughts of giving up the race after the third round hastened in and out of my mind. That’s when Haile Gebrechalidze, the famous Moroccan middle distance runner’s image came flirting across and flapped those thoughts away. No! I wasn’t going to give up. I was definitely going to qualify for the next round and all the other rounds after that, and find my way to the Everest Base Camp with the Indian Army. After a few minutes, I panted past the finish line and crashed into the bosom of the burning ground below. I knew I had qualified. Because the National Geographic Channel’s cameramen zoomed in with their Sony Cameras to film me struggling to catch my breath. After all I was doing middle distance running some fifteen years after I had hung up my athletic boots.

From over a thousand, the contestants were now pruned down to one hundred and forty. The third round was an obstacle course or the web round. Where groups of fifteen were asked to stand on one side of a giant nylon spider’s web, ease themselves through the holes in the web, and reach the other side without
touching the nylon chords. The group with the maximum number of contestants reaching the other side in fifteen minutes would be the winner. There were hues and cries. Cheers and jeers. Shouts and screams. It was crazy out there. Soon, the whistle blew and the competition came to a halt. While a few of the groups
had seven and some had eight members on the other side of the nylon web, my group had none. We were distraught and disappointed, albeit only for a few seconds. Because when the judges announced the list of contestants for the next round, I was in that list and almost seven other members of my group had also
qualified. I was amazed. The decision was based not on the number of group members who reached the other side of the giant web, but in terms of camaraderie, leadership skills, teamwork and a whole lot of other skills.

The fourth round was a Psychometric test and a personal interview round. The contestants had now been trimmed to just seventy five. From over a thousand in the morning, this was amazing. And I was among the fortunate few. Whew!

After almost an hour and a half, the Psychometric test and the personal interview round was over and done with and I nervously awaited the results. One that would send me into the final round to be held the next day, where the final five would be selected to join the fifteen from the other three metros. I could
see many a fingernail biting the dust. I could feel a legion of butterflies in many a stomach. I could hear the chirping of birds gently ceasing. And just then I saw the Sun gently disappearing into the distant horizon. It was twilight.

Soon the successful chest numbers were being called out. The cameras began rolling. This was my moment. Everest was going to be mine in a few days. And I would be seen on the National Geographic Channel, April onwards. I wasn’t overconfident. It was just that I had a gut feel that I would make it. There
were a lot of cheers as the successful contestants got up and went on to stand on a specially erected stage. From seventy five we were told that the contestants were being pruned to almost half. My heart beats began galloping. Even its decibels increased alarmingly. The numbers continued to be called out.
The cheers rose to a crescendo. There were five more to go. Then four. Then three. Then two. My number had still not showed up. I bowed my head and prayed.

“Please Lord; I want to climb Mt. Everest. Please make it happen. Please. I’ll break a hundred and one coconuts. I promise. I’ll go on a pilgrimage to Nasik. I promise. I’ll roll around your place of worship a hundred times singing praises in your name. I promise. But just make this dream of mine come true. Please
Lord. Just make this dream of mine come true.”

The last number was called out. A short, scrawny young man jumped out of his seat and raced to join the other successful contestants. The cheers reached gargantuan proportions. I was devastated. How could I have missed the bus? How could Mt. Everest not be mine? I sat there with a few others who didn’t make it.
Most of them immediately left the playground. But I refused to vacate my seat. It was as if a tube of glue had been pasted to my chair. It was nerve-wracking. Darkness had set in by now. I waited for a while, then walked to the organizer and asked him to check whether my number had been missed out by a quirk of fate. He peered through his laptop, then looked up and said:

“Sorry Sir! Your number is not in the final list.”

Even the faintest of hope that had engulfed me, now lay shattered. I picked up my broken pieces, gathered my belongings and trudged out of the playground with a weary shoulder and a heart full of woe. Everest was a distant dream.

I reached home, took a hot shower and plonked myself on the couch in front of the idiot box. The India-Zimbabwe World Cup cricket match was on. My mind raced back to the eventful day. So what if I hadn’t made it to Mt. Everest? So what? Will I sit around for EVER and REST? Never! My dream would come true someday. Just then the phone rang.

“Can I speak to Mr. Narayanan Vincent?” asked the thick male voice with a lot of concern.
“Speaking” I replied, wearily.
“Sir, I am calling from the Youth Hostels Association of India. This is regarding the trek to Everest Base Camp you had applied for a few days ago…”
“Yes…”
“Sir, I am happy to inform that you have been included in the list of twenty trekkers.”
“WHAT!” I almost screamed.
“Yes Sir! There was a last minute withdrawal of one participant. So I immediately fitted you in.”

I could not believe my eyes. I stood there with the receiver in my hands. Stunned, Stumped and Shaken.


Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.

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