Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review : More Than Everest - He Conquered the Hearts of Men

Title : More Than Everest
Author : Dr. Harish Dhillon
Publisher : Hay House 
ISBN : 978-93-80480-95-4

I often used to wonder how could travelogues or writings on personal adventures, mountaineering, trekking or any such activity be of interest to a reader curled up with the book in the confines of his/her home. But it was just a matter of getting initiated by the right book and fortunately after having read the likes of Jon Krauker and Bill Bryson, I gladly stand corrected. Thanks to the chronicled words of the mountaineers and trekkers, their armchair counterparts like me can at least virtually partake some part of the thrill that they experience in person.

With mountain peak beckoning thus - "Although Mount Everest was already conquered, its romance remained, and the age of discovery of the earth was not over.  That mountain still stood as a challenge to the human spirit and nations were tempted to accept that challenge", on 20th May, 1965, a young member of the Indian expedition, who had never been a mountaineer, planted the Indian flag on the summit of Everest, the first Indian to do so - Autar Cheema with Nawang Gombu on his rope.

This achievement worked as a much needed balm for the bruised self esteem of our country in early 1965 when the treacherous scars of defeat from treacherous China were still very much fresh and Pakistan was trying to make the most of the vulnerable situation of India by encroaching upon Indian territory in Rann of Kutch. Besides these two external foes, there was one internal adversary too - the shortage of food." It is with this backdrop on the subcontinent that an expedition to climb Mount Everest by Indians was allowed. "

'More Than Everest' is a befitting tribute to a person who donned many hats with élan by dint of his inner strength of character, audacity and tenacity. From being a highly decorated paratrooper in Indian Army, a mountaineer to have achieved the rarest of the rare feats, a compassionate and visionary farmer to a loving family man, Autar Singh Cheema achieved all. The book traverses his journey from his childhood years through various stages of his life and career till his last days when he fought like a brave soldier against a formidable enemy leukemia. In a life which spanned less than six decades, Autar Singh managed to make an indelible mark in the annals of Indian and international mountaineering and has thus attained immortality.

I am reminded of a very famous dialogue from a Hindi movie Anand - 'Life badi honi chaahiye lambi nahin' (Life should be large, not long). Autar Singh's life is a true example of a large life.

This book is the brainchild of his niece - Preena Sandhu, who along with Mrs. Autar Singh Cheema collected and collated all information to finally hand it over to the author Dr. Harish Dhillon to do justice to Cheema spirit through his pen.

Every phase of Cheema's life is handled in detail in separate sections and one is dedicated to mountaineering. Some rare diary entries recorded by Cheema brings the real flavour of what goes on in the mind of a person while in the midst of action. This chapter covers all - preparation for the rigorous climb, the thrill and excitement of having conquered Mt. Everest and the adulation that followed this adventure.  

The biography comes across as a very well researched piece of writing appropriately supported by ample number of pictures from Cheema's life, which makes it a visually pleasing read. However, it runs a high  risk of overwhelming the readers with too many names and some not so significant incidents.

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