Everyone asks questions, and not all questions get answered. One question that I have been thinking about for a long time is one that someone asked me 2 months ago. They said -Vedanti, you seem fearless… what is it that you truly fear?
I didn’t know the answer so I asked people what they feared and found out that one of the things that people fear the most is darkness. The other is heights. Some even mentioned animals. I have been trekking since I was 4. Trekking in the Sahyadris with animals, darkness and heights has not only cured me of those fears, but has taken me to the extent of seeking comfort in them. It was trekking that gave me the answer to that question. But this story is not about me. It is about a girl from Maharashtra called Nilambari Kapileshwar. Well, frankly, I came to know her real name much later because the mountaineers had a special name for her- Dagadi. In Marathi, it means the ‘girl made of stone’. She was the best mountaineer in Maharashtra and her mountaineering feats surpassed those of many veterans. She has been my icon for a long time and I very well remember the first time I met her.
There’s a place called Lingana in Maharashtra, which is the deepest valley in the state, and one of the deepest in the country. At an amateur age of 8 I had valley-crossed Lingana only because I had been promised that I would be able to meet Dagadi on the other side. When I reached the other side, I asked the first person I saw where Dagadi was and whether I could meet her. They removed my harness and just smiled at me. Someone came from behind me, grabbed me and hoisted me on to their shoulder before I could protest. A yelling and kicking 8-yr old me was carried to the top of the peak. That’s where the girl put me down and introduced herself as Dagadi. Delighted, I forgot my shock and surprise and gave her a huge hug. That was my first meeting with her and I still remember her smiling face and strong shoulders. The last time I met her was on her marriage 4-5 years back. I saw her smiling on marriage day only to come to know that she had a huge mountaineering accident. She was actually giving a demonstration of valley crossing at a height of about 25-30 feet. Since she was a veteran at this particular activity, she was just harnessed onto the ropes without any safety gear. Right in the middle of valley-crossing however, Dagadi forgot that she did not have any safety ropes attached and… she just let go. Falling from that height might not sound like a big deal but valley crossing is done in a position when you’re parallel to the ground with your back facing down. So when she fell, she fell on her back and broke her spine. It took a lot of time for the others to recover from their shock, Dagadi just lay there with a shattered spinal cord and medical help was hours away. I don’t know how she endured it but she was in coma for over a month or two and in therapy for over 3 years. The doctors told her that she wouldn’t walk again. For a normal person, that’s horrible. For a hard-core trekker and mountaineer, that’s just devastating. But she wasn’t called Dagadi for nothing. The next day she made her first attempt to sit up. And soon, her first attempt to walk. But, it still took her 3yrs of therapy to walk again, and that too was possible only because of her stone-hard stubbornness. And now, she got married with her back straight, has a child she runs after and is happy.
That, is her story and from her I realized many things. People don’t fear animals. They fear what animals can do. People don’t fear the darkness. They fear what’s in it. People don’t fear height. They fear falling. As for me? I don’t fear falling or breaking apart. I fear not being able to get up again.