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O.P. Bhatnagar: Scaling Heights

(Analysis of a poem on the tragic death of Dr. Willie Unsoeld’s daughter, Nanda Devi, on an expedition to the peak of Nanda Devi in the Himalayas, September 8, 1976. Dr. Willie Unsoeld is a devoted American mountaineer.)

O.P. Bhatnagar starts the poem with the hint given along with the poem kept under a bracket just at the beginning. How did the tragedy befall the family? How was a tender life snuffed out? Whom to blame? It happened as it had to happen. Who can have a control over the writ of destiny? We as the readers of the poem keep opining as thus as the write-up is about the fall, tragedy, mishap, loss and mourning and grief overtaking the family. But who can thwart the unseen? Everybody knows it that mountaineering is not within the reach of all. The tragedy is almost like that of Riders to the Sea of J.M. Synge.

When we read the poem, it dances before the eyes the photo of Nanda Devi, the daughter of Dr. Willie Unsoeld and her tragic loss and mourning thereafter. How dared she scale the mountain peaks, how was she lost in the mountain tracks! Here mountaineering as a subject maligns us with its daredevilry as well as keeps us spell-bound with its undaunted bravery. To reach the top, to scale the mountain peaks it is not easy. How to narrate the unnarrated stuffs? How the history of climbing? To read the poem is to open the pages of climbing and mountaineering. How were the climbers in the past? How the tracks and treks? How are they now? Who climbed when who knows it? Just the locals can say it about or they remember it not the things of history. Himalayan sadhus did they penance and vanished into their rigorous sadhna as because they had not anything to do with worldliness and name and fame. The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna by Charles Wolfe too is a poem of that sort reminding of the memorial service done in a huff or jut for name sake.

What can it happen in scaling heights? They only know it who climb the unscaled mountains, climb taking as for the call of the mountains and the snow-clad or dawn-lit peaks.

How had it been her fate? What was it in her destiny? One from across the seas came she to transcend the mountains, the rugged and treacherous held aloft and magnanimous peaks always full of risks and dangers and dared to take up out of passion and mountaineering. But the writ had been written it otherwise. She fell sick seriously and succumbed to while venturing into the Nanda Devi. A girl named Nanda Devi after the mystery, beauty and dangerous mountains got lost into the mythological blizzards and avalanches of its climbing, mountaineering history.

The death in snow, on the snowy paths, hairs stand on in thinking about the same. How could it have been her death, she writhing in pain over the trekking paths and the tracks laden in snow, high above, who to hear her call there? It was really a difficult time. It was really a difficult situation to grapple with.

How graceful was she? How much beautiful and innocent she was? Where from did she come and with what mission and zeal and what did it happen to here? Destiny too could do it noting.

The daughter of Nanda Devi she went to Nand Devi. Perhaps this was her fate, her destiny, bad luck, ascension favoured her not, the falling health took a toll upon. Leaving unto God, what more to comment in this regard?

To see the lofty mountains and its peaks shrouded in mystery and snow, the mythology taking over and the sunrise glowing mysteriously still make us reminded of her, the American daughter scaling the heights. Who says that she died  frozen death? She has turned into the mystery surrounding it, into the mythology of the mountain ranges, though tracks and treks of it. The mother’s child the mother taken her away. Still she is in the lap of her mother, Nanda Devi, the Goddess of the mountains. So, why to grieve?

The poet has beautiful words for her, transoceanic elegance, born of love for the mountains, bewitching beauty of the Himalayas, the wondrous womb of America, snowy mountain dream.

A transoceanic elegance
She was born of love for the mountains
That had willy nilly enamoured Unsoeld
To the bewitching beauty of the Himalayas.
He had especially fallen for Nanda Devi
To bring forth a child
From the wondrous womb of America
Naming it no different
Than his snowy mountain dream.
Languishing in the heady splendours
Of the hoary Himalayas
A lily, she grew
Twenty two years in grace and snow
Blooming bright in the vintage of fistful memories
Of materializing the native unsold
American dream
Of giving Nanda Devi a warm family embrace
On its luring frozen heights.
As all heights are treacherous
She died of high altitude fever
Writhing with severe abdominal pain
The young to fall and understand
Lord Krishna’s philosophy of ‘Karma’
Or Hemingway’s snowball
Of the killer and the killed.
In emotions mixed with morning dew
To soften the adventurer’s boast
Of scaling infinite heights,
Her father believed
”She died doing things
She loved most”.
And of the many roles longed for
She took the one least boasted by.
In the twilight mood of liquid clarity
One can still see her scaling heights
On the path which has no turning
And from where
There is not turning back.
For the American Pilgrim Father
The way was the dream
And the dream
An ever present feel
Of the far seeing eye
Founding high roads
And scaling new heights for humanity.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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