The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Medic on Mission Antarctica Medical man on Mission Antarctica
- Only Calcuttan in all-India team for 16-month ‘iceland’ stay

Same time next month, Pradip Malhotra has a date with Antarctica. He will be spending the next 16 months trying to break the ice with the seventh continent of the world.

Malhotra has become the only Calcuttan to find a place in the 65-member all-India team that will leave the country — en route to Antarctica — on December 3. And he will be one of the select 25 to stay on in the ‘iceland’ for the next 16 months. This will make him the first Calcuttan to spend the much-dreaded winter in Antarctica, when temperatures are known to drop 89.6 degrees below zero on the Celsius scale.

The doctor with the government Mint is now busy preparing himself — mentally, physically and professionally — for the self-chosen ordeal. The mental aspect, spending more than a year away from home, could be the toughest part of the once-in-a-lifetime assignment, he admits.

For Malhotra, a graduate of Medical College and Hospital (1977 batch), the road to Antarctica opened up in July 2002 when he volunteered to undergo the gruelling psychological and medical tests — following up on a circular from the Goa-based National Centre for Antarctica and Ocean Research — that would separate the mere wannabe from the serious explorer.

“They basically wanted to check our mental and physical toughness,” Malhotra told Metro at his Belvedere Estate quarters on Monday. The applicant’s medical history, too, was put under the minutest-possible scrutiny during the tests in Delhi.

Spending 16 months in isolation from one’s family — seeing the same stretch of white day after day — could torment the toughest of minds.

“The most common problems are psychological,” says Malhotra, adding that the Antarctica was known to host some of the most region-specific diseases, like hypothermia and related disorders.

Malhotra, however, is also worried about his professional commitments there. With only two doctors — the other one from Meerut — in the 25-member team that will brave the polar winter, falling ill is a strict no-no. Malhotra is aware of what he may face. That is why, he explains, he has started learning how to develop X-ray plates and the intricacies of the X-ray machine.

The Antarctica team leaves India on December 3. It will fly out to Johannesburg and from there to Cape Town, the southernmost tip of South Africa. The distance from the dark continent to the whitest continent would, in all probability, be charted in a Norwegian ice-breaker, discloses Malhotra.

The Calcutta doctors’ preparations are going full steam ahead — from the yoga-and-fitness regimen to the packing of basic winter clothing (the polar clothing will be provided by the National Centre for Antarctica and Ocean Research).

But what about time spent with the family' Till March 2004 (when he is scheduled to come back home), Malhotra is entitled to one three-minute call every fortnight to his family in Calcutta. “I can, of course, mail, but it’s not the real thing,” he smiles.

nSeminar: The All-India Minority Forum (AIMF) organised a seminar on ‘Maulana Azad, Terrorism and Pakistan’ to mark Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s birth anniversary on Monday. Former Union education minister Pratap Chandra Chunder and AIMF president Idris Ali were the main speakers.

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