MALLI MOVED MOUNTAINS!

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Malli Mastan Babu hardly looked the continent-spanning mountain climber that he was when I first met him in campus. Dark and wiry, there was nothing to distinguish him except a pair of tell-tale eyes that shone like distant mountain peaks. Malli had come to inspire IIM Kozhikode students and raise funds for his journey in the Andes in South America. “When this is done, I would focus on writing my autobiography”, he had told us.

Malli was a former student of my alma mater IIM Kolkata. As a student he would go around the sprawling campus in Joka several times much to the amusement of his classmates hunched over books in the IIM library. He would urge his friends and detractors to increase their fitness levels. His relentless effort to institutionalize adventure activities led to the foundation of IIM Kolkata’s Adventure Club.

Coming from a family of farmers, it was unlikely that he would end up as a youth icon of India. The seed of aspiration to be a mountaineer was planted in him as a schoolboy. He drew inspiration from a Sainik School senior who had died while nearing the top of Mt. Everest. The unfinished business of a role model spurred him on to train his body and mind for a grueling career in adventure sports.

In 2006, he completed the Seven Summits, the highest peak in each of the seven continents, in a span 172 days, which was also a world record during that time. He climbed each summit on a different day of the week as he dreamed he would.

Malli went missing on 24 March 2015 and died inside his pitched tent on the slopes of Cerro Tres Cruces Sur in the Andes. He was climbing solo, and was caught up in the exceptionally bad weather, which also led to the 2015 Northern Chile floods and mudflow, in the Andes. With all access routes to the mountain being cut, it took close to 10 days for the rescue teams to reach him. His body was found on 3 April 2015. He was supposed to have returned to India by month-end after adding the last of the ten highest peaks in the Andes to his list of conquests.

Malli will be cremated with state honours today. Luckily his dreams can’t be cremated. Malli’s autobiography will be spoken in whispers among friends, family and colleagues. Who knows when another school kid, with the lure of mountain in his eyes will gaze at that summit in the Andes again?

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