“Hum poori koshish karenge ki aapko kal subah tak theek kar den,” * he said. Nursing assistant Subedar Ghanshyam didn’t quite look convinced himself, as he said those words. He had given me a shot for the pain, and was applying an ice pack over the injured area. When I sat up to look at my foot, I thought he was being rather too optimistic.
I had known about the Nehru Institute of Moutaineering only a few years ago. The moment I learnt about it, I wanted to go there. In 2015, I had sent in an application and the reply was quite prompt. I was told that I could be accommodated in the last batch for the year in 2017. It seems they had quite a few applicants waiting.
By the start of last year, I had started preparing in small ways. I ran a few days every week, progressively trying to increase the distances I cover. Closer to the date of joining, I shopped for a backpack and some basic necessities, including a good pair of hiking boots, a hat, sunglasses & so on. I was obviously excited and looking forward to being in the mountains. In fact, my previous post was from somewhere en route Dehradun to Uttarkashi, where the Institute is located.
The Course in Basic Mountaineering, which I had enrolled for, is structured in such a way that in the first week or so, we are trained in rock-craft and other ideas such as using ropes, equipment, first-aid and so on, the knowledge of which is required to be in the mountains. In those days, we were at the Institute campus and would trek about 10 km everyday to the rock climbing site. It was the last day of this phase of our training, and we were at the institute campus itself. We were to leave very early the next morning. We would venture out into the mountains, camping at a couple of locations along the way and learn two other trades – snow-craft and ice-craft. That morning, we were practising on some boulders, when I fell. I hadn’t fallen from any significant height, but landed quite awkwardly. In fact, the moment I fell, I knew that this wasn’t good. The pain was quite unbearable.
By mid morning, I was taken to the town of Uttarkashi for an x-ray, following which I met a doctor. The doctor declared what I had feared – that I had fractured by foot. He applied a plaster cast to immobilise the joint, and advised me to get home for further treatment. When I got back to the Institute, I took another painkiller and decided to not to lie resting in my room. I was fortunate to be lent the only pair of crutches that was available. I hobbled my way to the training area. It was evening, and most people were busy making sure they had their equipment right or exchanging things and packing their bags for the following day. I decided to sit there and witness all the activity.
One by one, those who passed by me, including my batch mates, members of other courses who I had been familiar with, and the instructors, would stop by to enquire. I had to repeat the same thing. It was a fracture, I was advised to go home. I would perhaps leave the following morning, when the others hit the mountains. A couple of my roommates came along, looking grave. They sat next to me and enquired. Silence ensured for a long while, and was broken only by my suggestion, that we go to the cafeteria for a cup of tea. Over tea, one of them remarked that he was feeling very bad about the whole thing. After all, I had waited more than 2 years for this.
My first reaction, after the pain passed away, was to smile. “Man proposes, God disposes,” I told him. I thought to myself how things had turned out, and I couldn’t help but smile at the unexpected twist in my little adventure story. One of them remarked that I seemed to be taking it better than he had. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Navy. He did seem quite sullen for the rest of the evening, and here I was, trying to cheer him up! “We’ll meet again. If not in the mountains, elsewhere perhaps. Who knows we’ll have a drink together some day,” I told him.
It has been two months since all this happened. I am recovering quite well. I look back at the time that has elapsed, and feel very grateful for many things. I am listing them below, in no particular order.
I am extremely thankful for the care shown by the Institute. In fact, they insisted on paying for the medical expenses while I was there. They made sure someone was with me until the time I was back at my room.
My fellow students. Some of them who had hardly spoken with me turned up at my room that night, to commiserate. Others helped me in myriad ways that evening, and the following morning, until we all left – them to the mountains, and me back home.
The staff at the airlines. In one stretch, I was refused wheelchair assistance because they were booked. A friend who lived in Dehradun helped by speaking with someone at the airport. Some of the passengers who I was unfortunately inconveniencing. People who drove the cabs I had hired. Assistants who had wheeled me at the airport. Random fellow travelers. Many had helped in significant ways.
Medical care. Despite all that is said about it nowadays, I believe I received very good medical care. The surgery was carried out deftly. The pain had disappeared. Every doctor and nurse that I had met were caring and brought about an air of positivity around me.
My workplace, and colleagues who were kind enough not to trouble me. This, at a time when work has been at its peak. Many of them very kindly filled-in to complete my work during my absence. They continue to help in many ways, as I am back at work now.
Books. I read more than I had ever done in recent times and it felt good.
My parents. I was with them the last 2 months or so. I can’t remember the number of people to whom they would have narrated my story. And it would always end with them saying that despite everything, they were glad to have me home. I couldn’t help but feel sad that it ought to have been caring for them, rather than the other way around. Yet, I feel extremely grateful for the precious time I got in their company.
When I look back, I think the little difficulties made me look at everything with a lot more gratitude than I may have in other times. I was more accepting. I think our lives would be filled with more joy and peace, if we learned to accept things. When we think about it, a lot of our struggles may be with non-acceptance, and our desire to control and shape things in ways we may think is desirable for us and others.
This year, I pray that I learn to accept things and reside in the apparent discomfort. Happy new year.
* – We’ll try our best to get you fixed by tomorrow morning.