At 6 a.m. on May 25, thirteen-year-old Malavath Poorna became the youngest girl to climb the world’s tallest peak. She had carried with her a photograph of Dalit leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the Tricolour in a plastic bag acquired from a fancy store in Secunderabad.
Among her belongings was also a flag of her school, the Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (APSWREIS), where Poorna is completing Class IX from the Nizamabad district, now in the newly-created Telangana State.
Poorna is a ‘Swaero’, just as each one of the 1.7 lakh students who study at the 291 APSWREIS schools spread across the now divided Andhra Pradesh are known. When the going got tough during her ascent to the summit, she recollected the “ten commandments” that the ‘Swaeroes’ recite in times of adversity. ‘I am not inferior to anyone, I shall be a leader, I will think big and aim high, I will never give up…….’
In the last leg of her climb, she saw six bodies and she was shocked. “I thought ‘Oh, my God!’ and I felt some fear. Then I took a minute to recollect the Swaeroes’ ten commandants, and thought about my parents and Secretary Sir,” Poorna said at an interaction with the press here.
By ‘Secretary Sir’, Poorna was referring to IPS Officer R.S. Praveen Kumar, the brains behind introducing adventure sports among many others things into the curriculum as a confidence-building measure for the youngsters who all come from poor backgrounds. “I cannot even describe how difficult the climb was, but I was fixed on fulfilling the dreams of Secretary Sir,” Poorna, the daughter of Devidas and Laxmi, both agricultural labourers, said.
It was not the steep curves, the sharp crevices or the biting cold that affected Poorna on her expedition. “I dislike packaged food,” she confessed, smiling. Her fellow ‘Swaero’, S. Anand Kumar (17), who was part of the team of climbers agreed that the diet, that revolved around packaged food, was bland and unpalatable.
Both youngsters went through a rigorous training that took them from rock climbing lessons in Bhongir Rocks, scaling the 17,000 feet Mount Renock in the Kanchenjunga Range, acclimatisation in minus 35 degrees Celsius in mountain ranges surrounding Ladakh to finally scaling Mt. Everest from the northern side from China. “My parents supported me throughout this phase and they were confident I will come back successful,” said Anand, whose father works in a cycle shop. “Now, that I am back I will have to focus on my education a bit more since I will be entering college soon.”
Poorna plans to focus on her education too with plans to join the police force some day.
Having charmed the liaison officers of the Chinese Mountaineering Association, who all insisted on taking pictures with Poorna even before she started her ascent, she is all set to take up another challenge, “if given the chance, I’d climb Everest from the South side.”
A lot seems to have changed while Poorna was away on her expedition. When she left for Kathmandu on April 8, she was still from an undivided State of Andhra Pradesh. By the time she returned, her new State of Telangana had already claimed her and her achievement to be their own. Perhaps she knew what was coming, since she said: “I also unfurled a flag of Telangana when I reached the summit.”