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Eggs to sell in hand, an eye on Everest

The first ascent of Thalay Sagar, one of the steepest peaks in the Indian Himalayas, through the shale-marked north face of the summit was deemed worthy of the Piolet d’Or, an annual mountaineering award given by the French magazine Montagnes. But the first woman to summit the peak is so unsure of rewards that she is contemplating selling a kidney to fund her next big climb: Mt Everest.

Tusi Das, 28, sells eggs for a living at the Dum Dum Park market and scales peaks when she has saved some money and the odd sponsorship comes by.

On July 22, Tusi summited Thalay Sagar (6,904 metres) in Uttarakhand, a peak known for its consistently steep profile on all sides. She was the sole climber in the five-member women’s team from the Alipore-based Kolkata Albatross Adventure Society to reach the summit.

Tusi aspires to conquer Everest next. “If need be, I will sell one of my kidneys and arrange money for the expedition. So far as Everest is concerned, my spirit is indomitable, and I will conquer it at any cost,” she said.

Between 7 and 11.30am on most days, you can find Tusi selling eggs at Dum Dum Park market. She has been supporting her mother Sabitri, two elder sisters and a brother since the death of her father, Jagabandhu Das, who used to run the same stall.

“I lost my father in 1994. Since then, I have been looking after my family, apart from continuing my studies and mountaineering,” said Tusi, a graduate in arts from Derozio Memorial College.

What she lacks by way of financial muscle, Tusi makes up for with her passion for mountaineering.

“I earn around Rs 7,000 a month, with which I feed my family as well as meet my mountaineering expenses. It’s tough,” said Tusi, who lives in a shanty at 10 Mallick Para Lane in Dum Dum.

Tusi’s club spent Rs 4.5 lakh on her Thalay Sagar expedition. “I only had to fill the requisite form and pay Rs 5,000,” she said.

But Everest could yet prove insurmountable, and not because Tusi doesn’t have the mountaineering credentials. After conquering Thalay Sagar, she had hoped that either chief minister Mamata Banerjee or sports minister Madan Mitra would congratulate her on her feat but they haven’t.

“I am not belittling her feat. I congratulate her. But there are several other peaks that have not yet been scaled. We would request her to approach the youth welfare ministry, which looks after mountaineering, for any kind of assistance,” Mitra said.

Expert mountaineers feel the least the government could have done was encourage Tusi, if not reward her for a feat that no woman had achieved before.

To the expert eye, climbing Thalay Sagar demands more technical expertise than ascending Everest.

“People generally do not have thorough knowledge about the nature of mountain peaks. Thalay Sagar, owing to its rocky nature and steep gradient, can easily be bracketed with the difficult-to-climb peaks such as Nanga Parvat or K2,” said Basanta Singha Roy, adviser to the West Bengal Mountaineering & Adventure Sports Foundation.

“Till 2008, of 75 attempts to scale Thalay Sagar by foreigners, only 15 had succeeded. I got recognition as a climber only after climbing the peak in 2008,” said Roy, the first Indian to have done so.

Since the first ascent of Thalay Sagar on June 24, 1979, by an Anglo-American team comprising Roy Kligfield, John Thackray and Pete Thexton, the peak has been the test piece of modern mountaineering. The biggest challenge on the direct routes remains a band of shale near the summit, which presents rotten and dangerous rock.

Andrew Lindblade and Athol Whimp first climbed the peak directly through the shale band, instead of finishing on one of its ridges.

Tusi, who started her journey as a mountaineer in 1998, has so far climbed Droupadi ka Danda (5,760m), Mount Kalindi, Menthosa (6,443m), Nandokhat (6,611m) and Kangaytst (6,410m). She needs around Rs 22 lakh for an Everest expedition and the only thing assurance from the government so far is that her requirements would be considered.

“We congratulate Tusi on her (Thalay Sagar) feat. She should approach the state government’s mountaineering institute at Salt Lake with her requirements. Once approved by our expert panel, we will be happy to assist her in her future expeditions,” said youth welfare minister Arup Biswas.

Till the promised help comes her way, hope will be Tusi the mountaineer’s oxygen as she prepares to scale the peak of her ambition.

Do you know anyone like Tusi? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com