ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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My Myth and I

Modern climbing is obsessed with goals and objectives as climbers strive for the myth of the courageous gladiator. 

We had been hiking for a month. Our cooking had become monotonous. There is only so much variety you can have in the Himalayas. Green vegetables are hard to come by; potato dominates, onions are occasionally available, eggs mean celebration. That frugality, plus a decent supply of the healthier versions of processed food, had been our diet. No complaints. We were fine. Still, when an entire kitchen is shaped by what you can carry on your back, monotony inevitably invades. 
 
We developed a craving for meat. 
 
The most popular meat in the hills is mutton. Passing through a village, we negotiated and bought a goat, not lamb but a trifle bigger and beginning to sport the long hair of a goat from the hills. Back at camp, when it came to killing it, one staunch mutton-lover volunteered for the task. But it takes three for the job. I had to hold down the struggling animal’s legs. The dish we made was delicious. But I ate it with a most troubled mind. In cities I can easily eat meat. Buy the meat off the shelf, cook it and eat it or walk into a restaurant and order it. You don’t see the kill. Here I saw one at close quarters. It left me wondering how many of us would eat meat if we had to do the killing as well. 
 
Something similar to the troubled mind I had that day with goat and mutton, irritates me about today’s climbing world. Modern climbing is a lot like eating meat in the city. You are busy finishing things, ticking off objectives. It isn’t a bucket list. But the near office-like routine of doing this route, that rock face and the other, does prompt me to call it the Immortality List. And with desire for immortality comes fears of mortality. Is that why many climbers climb for dear life as if to stop doing so is to hazard losing touch with something utterly central to existence? Not to mention time running out. I know climbing addicts who are oblivious to how they perceive the world. They see but don’t know how they see. It’s a way of seeing; ways of seeing isn’t the same as seeing everything. But they reach high, so isn’t it the greatest way to see? 
 
Complicating matters is the tribe I belong to – the media. We hawk immortality on Earth, a sort of indulgence before death averages us all. Thanks to us in the media, adventure and adventurous activities like climbing, burn, shine, blaze – they seem more rite of passage, a test. I see the furious climbing all around me, the committed climbing, the photos of climbing on social media, the climbing magazines – I return my harness to my backpack and the backpack to its resting place in the bedroom. I am scared. Suddenly, it feels terrible to fail. I am surrounded by giants of climbing. 
 
Writing on climbing seems easier. It’s just words and although not exactly rock, they are like rock, pretty old, been around for ages. Words have this harmless, retired, ancient feel. Besides, writing has been busted wide open by whole-planet writing. Deliberate aspiration for immortality in writing is too blatant a manipulation these days to be anything but that. Writing is like the climber’s afternoon nap at the foot of a boulder or rock he has been attempting from morning. It is very nondescript and pleasurably so, in a world very descriptive of success. 
 
Recently, while talking about climbers, I found myself using the word “gladiator”. “Everybody is a gladiator or warrior”, I said. Athletic climbers look the bit; those not athletic hide gladiator games in the head. The original gladiators, however, must have been desperate souls. How would you feel if you knew you are walking to your death? Many would have been nervous wrecks; some, perhaps a bundle of fury for they had nothing left to lose. Maximus Decimus Meridius is a story; Spartacus is history we know as story. Centuries after the slaves’ rebellion, we decided what it meant in our admiration of heroism and gave its leader Kirk Douglas for a face. It took years for the world’s literature and movies to depict the last century’s wars as exactly what they were and soldiers, just as they behaved on the battlefield. Cinema’s soldiers began to crack up, cry. I remember well-researched, carefully written books on mountaineering that recast old myths of courageous climbers into more believable stories of flesh and blood. English mountaineer George Mallory remains hallowed yet his ascent to seem an ideal for his times has now been explained. Maybe one day we’ll sit next to Spartacus and see him as he was? 
 
Still, how come the myths proliferated in the first place; how come we continue coveting the imagery of myth and strive to be legend ourselves? I suspect that has a lot to do with a regime of act separated from impression and the latter consumed excessively through media at the expense of real life. We love mutton, and processed meat flies off the shelves at department stores. It is a successful industry. But if each of us had to kill a goat before eating meat, probably we would approach the subject differently. Do we tell the story before calling it adventure or does adventure decide how the story is told? 
 
 

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