July 2015

Accept. Surrender. Let Him be the charioteer of your life. –  Chinmaya

We are but unpolished stones in the hands of the Master Sculptor. Chiselling is painful and the stone has no choice. Let us endure all hardships keeping this in mind: every knock – He has a purpose behind; every blow – He has a bigger picture in mind.

This is the story of Arunima Sinha, the first female amputee to climb Mount Everest.

No doubt, the best steel has to come from the hottest furnace.

On a fateful day, 11th April 2011, she was travelling from Lucknow to Delhi in the train to appear for CISF exam. A group of robbers, around 4 or 5 of them, tried to snatch her bag and gold chain. It was a general compartment and none bothered to intervene. She fought back bravely, but they threw her out of the running train.

 Unfortunately, at the same time, another train was passing on the adjacent track. She banged into that train and then fell on the rocky tracks. Both trains passed. Her left leg was cut off. Her thigh was hanging with the jeans, blood flowing profusely. Bones of the other leg were all broken and had come out. Her spine was left with three fractures. All night she kept shouting in pain on the tracks, but none was there to rescue her. The small rats on the railway tracks gathered to chew on her injured legs.

The whole night passed. For 7 hours she remained there unattended. In the morning some villagers saw her miserable plight and immediately took her to Bareilly District Hospital in UP. But in the hospital, there was neither the blood nor the facilities for anaesthesia. The doctors and the pharmacists themselves donated a unit of blood each and the leg was amputated without anaesthesia to save the patient. Her pain was unimaginable.

When it was known that Arunima was a national volleyball player, she got better treatment in AIIMS Trauma Centre in Delhi due to the intervention of the Sports Minister. In the meanwhile the media carried all twisted stories – ‘Arunima didn’t have a train ticket and jumped off a train’, ‘She was rejected by her family’, ‘Arunima attempted suicide’…

Silently she and her family endured them all.

It took her 4 to 5 months to recover. But she had decided never to give up the battle of life. “If not volleyball why not mountaineering – life’s most difficult game?” The inner fire to achieve something in life remained inextinguishable.

But her new fancy had two major hurdles: first – to get training under proper guidance, and second – to get sponsorship for a huge amount of 50 lakhs!  

When she shared with people her dream to conquer Everest, everyone thought she had gone crazy. They did indeed try to put some sense into her, “You can never do mountaineering. One leg is artificial and the other has a rod. Have you lost your mind? Your spine also has fractures. You’re mad; forget this and take up some job and quietly spend your life.”

But she remained undeterred. Her family was her backbone. They approached Madam Bachendri Pal, who had climbed Mount Everest in 1984. Madam said, “Arunima, even in this state you could think of such a difficult challenge like Everest! That means you have already conquered it in your heart. Now it’s just for the sake of other people.”

Training and sponsorship – all got done. On 1st April 2013, she started her ascent to Everest. To reach the mountain from road head to base camp, it took her 3 hours while others took only 2 minutes. Her right leg’s bones were not yet healed, her left leg was a prosthetic; the stump was all red; all the wounds were still fresh. Her leg used to bleed if placed forcefully.

Seeing her condition, Sherpa refused to take her fearing the risk to his own life. But others somehow convinced him. They were six people in the group. The climb began. Up till the rocky areas, there was no problem. As soon as she reached the green and blue ice, her artificial leg started slipping over the ice. Breaking the ice and making holes, she moved forward.

 It was all fine up till Camp 3. But further up, the climbing became extremely difficult, dangerous and fiery. She could see dead people in front of her eyes. In the night, wherever her head-light went she could only see dead bodies. As the anchor was in the same rope, she had to step over the dead bodies to move forward. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! With an iron heart, she went on, all the while whispering within, “O Lord! If at all I succeed, I dedicate it to these comrades of mine whose dreams remained unfulfilled.”

Right after Hillary Step was Everest summit. When she reached the Hillary Step, her Sherpa gave her a huge shock, “Arunima! Turn back! Your oxygen is running out!!” But she was adamant and kept moving forward. Sherpa vehemently insisted, “Don’t be stubborn. You still have the rest of your life; you can always try again and eventually climb Everest. Let’s return!”

In life, such moments of temptations come to all – to give up at the final moment. How many of us slip just when the cup meets the lip!

But she turned a deaf ear to him. She knew how difficult it was to raise that much of money and to get the sponsorship. This chance would never come again. It was a do or die situation. She intuitively knew that the Supreme Lord Who had kept her alive amidst great tragedies had a reason.

Needless to say, in about one and a half hours, she was on the top.

On 21st May 2013, at 10:55 am, having reached the summit after 52 days of non-stop battle against all the odds, with tears of gratitude, she wrote a small message thanking the Almighty on a wrapped cloth and pressed it in the snow.

As she was climbing down, her oxygen completely ran out and she was on the verge of collapse. Coincidentally a British climber was coming up and he had 2 oxygen cylinders. Because of extremely bad weather, he threw away one of them and started going back down. Sherpa went down quickly, carried the cylinder and fitted it on her back. He said, “Arunima, you are so lucky that you got oxygen here. Definitely, God wants you to stay alive.”

As she was coming down pushing her heels into the ice, her entire prosthetic leg came off in one whole piece. The temperature was minus 60 degrees centigrade on Everest. Her hand wouldn’t bend, and it had started bleeding. It had already turned red. (Any limb turns red, blue and black in three stages. If it turned black then it has to be amputated.)

Grabbing the rope with one hand, and grabbing her artificial leg with the other, she started to drag herself down. After reaching a rock, they stopped, opened the leg and fixed it, and then started again.

Camp 4 to the summit and back – the distance is 3500 feet. People generally took 15-16 hours to climb it. It took her a total of 28 hours to climb.

Everyone had assumed that Arunima won’t return alive. When she reached the base camp again, everyone exclaimed in shock, “Unbelievable!!”

In 2015, the Indian Government awarded her Padma Shree for her remarkable feat. She dedicated it to Lord Shiva and Swami Vivekananda for being the inspiration of her life.

He knows the path; He knows the destination. On the road of life, let us surrender our chariot of BMI (Body-Mind-Intellect) to the Master Charioteer, and reach without delay the state of Ever-Rest, our own true nature.

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