Despite my 12 years of living in South America and my so-called expertise on the region I looked blank and perplexed when Malli Mastan Babu rattled off the names of the places he has visited. In fact, no Indian has ever been to most of the places where he has gone. The reason is that these places are at altitudes of over 6000 metres. They are the tallest mountain peaks in the region. To reach those places one has to be an expert mountain climber.
Babu has climbed the famous Aconcagua peak in the Argentine side of the Andean range three times. At 6962 metres height it is the tallest peak outside the Himalayas. Aconcagua is challenging because of windy conditions and unpredictable weather. He has climbed the Huascaran (6768 m) peak in Peru, the Sajama peak (6542 m) in Bolivia and Chimborazo (6310 m) in Ecuador and Ojos del Salado (6800 m) in Chile.
When Babu went to climb the Cristobal Colon peak in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of Colombia, the local Indians would not allow him to go up. They consider the mountain sacred and would not let outsiders on top of it. But Babu did not give up. He stayed on and established dialogue with them over several local drinks. He told them that he is also an Indian and that the people from India too worship many mountain gods. This made the Colombian Indians relent. They have asked him to come again and said they would send one of their tribesmen to accompany him up the mountain.
Babu’s plan for his current trip (He is here since December 2011) is to reach the top points of all the 12 countries of South America including Paraguay and Uruguay whose highest points are just 814 metres and 514 metres high. To reach Pico Neblina, the highest peak in Brazil (3007 m) he has to travel by boat in the Amazon river from Manaus to reach the base of the mountain.
On his next trip, he wants to climb all 14 peaks above 6000 m in Argentina. He will undertake this with his new Argentine friends and spend six months there from October 2012. Babu has spent about 9 months in South America in his four trips since 2005. I asked him how he managed the language problem. He smiled and said, “Mountains all over the world speak the same language”. They speak to him one on one when he reaches their summits. They welcome and cheer him up and open up their hearts and soul to him. The peaks, which feel lonely and cold on top, are thrilled with his company. That is why Babu prefers to go “solo” while climbing. He likes the privacy of his one-to one dialogue with the summits and treasures this intimate conversation. It is pure ecstasy for Babu who struggles for words to describe his feelings, emotions and joy. He experiences an incredible sense of liberation and consummation.
Babu does more than mountain talk. He also does management talk. He is a management graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkatta. He has given lectures on leadership and management at companies (GE, Intel, John Deere ), professional, cultural and social organizations and management schools In US, Dubai, Kenya and India. He was one of the speakers in the Second International Conference on “Igniting the Genius within” organized by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad in 2009. The title of his talk was “Dare to live the dream”. He motivates and inspires students and managers with his impressive achievements. He tells managers that a CEO is like the man on the top of the mountain peak. It is lonely out there. The CEO and the climber must have the personal courage, take the risk and stretch themselves to achieve things on their own. Business managers can learn from the mountain climber's rational planning and risk analysis and the passion which overrides reason and carries them beyond the perceived physical limit. Managers can plan and reach the base camp but it is the leaders who make the ascent to the summit. A bit of craziness is needed from the last base camp to the peak.
Babu has a solid technological background too. He has got a BE in Electrical Engineering from NIT Jamshedpur and an M.Tech in Electronics from IIT Kharagpur. He had worked as a software engineer with Satyam for three years.
He is likely one of the most highly qualified mountain climbers in the world. With his tech and management skills, Babu has added a new mental dimension to the physical world of mountain climbing. His perspectives and expressions are obviously different from those of the normal climbers. It is with this special combination that Babu is going to make a difference in his books, which he will publish soon.
He has climbed mountains in other parts of the world and has in fact a Guinness record for having climbed seven summits of the world in 172 days in 2006. This included the Vinson Massif peak (4887 m) in Antarctica. This was one of the toughest challenges for him due to the extreme cold. But he enjoyed the view from the top savoring the unforgettable view of the immense white snow and ice touching the clear blue sky all around.
Babu's achievement of conquest of the highest peaks of the world is commendable considering the fact that he comes from a humble farming family in the rice belt of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh , India. He could have climbed the corporate ladders with his management and tech degrees and personal drive and energy. But he opted to climb the mountains and pursue his passion for adventure.
Babu's mountain venture into South America is going beyond the peaks. He has found more than mountains here. He has started liking the region and the people. He is fascinated by the diverse geography, landscape, scenaries and climates. He especially likes Argentina and finds the Latinos warm, hospitable, charming and friendly; feeling at home and happy in their company and their free spirit. He has already made many friends here. He has learnt Spanish and enjoys the long conversations with the talkative Latinos. He does not eat red meat but enjoys the red malbec wine of Argentina. Latino music and dance fascinate him.
I asked Babu, an eligible bachelor of 37 years, how he has managed not to be captured by the enchanting Latino girls. He smiled again but this time it was mischievous with a glint in his eyes. He took a deep breath and said, “Hmmm... You are right. The Latinas are irresistible. It requires a mountain of determination to resist their spell”. Then the smile vanished. His look became intense and distant. His voice became serious when he said,” The mountains do not let me. I have still more to climb”. He stopped talking. His gaze went up. It looked as though he was in a trance. He was already climbing the mountain, in his mind.
R. Viswanathan is the Ambassador of India to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. This previously published article can be read at his blog (http://latinamericanaffairs.blogspot.com)