The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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50-plus holds her own in a man’s world

She has gone trekking, rock-climbing, white-water rafting, hot air-ballooning, parasailing, rowing… Her dream is to scuba dive and bungee jump. But next on the list of firsts for Deepali Sinha, 57, is skiing. “The saddest thing is, when I was young enough to do all this, women were not allowed into these ‘male bastions’,” she smiles. “But now that we have access everywhere, I am past the age limit. Not physically, but according to the rules in most cases.”

After completing her training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in 1967, she founded Pathikrit (‘pioneer’), “the first Indian all-women’s mountaineering club”. The same year, a group of them, led by Sinha, became the first women’s Himalayan expedition in eastern India. More than 35 years and 11 expeditions to places like Garhwal, Kulu and Sikkim later, the high court advocate’s lust for adventure and danger is far from quenched. Her most recent Himalayan expedition was in 2000, leading a women’s team of the Shikhar Mountaineering Club to Chaturanbhi. The highest point in her climbing career, 22,000 feet to Shigri Parbat. Through Pathikrit, Sinha has attended numerous national and international seminars on mountaineering, organised Himalayan quizzes and exhibitions.

At events organised by the West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Foundation and Academy, as well as the state wing of the Centre’s youth wing department, she has hot-air ballooned at the race course, and parasailed only last year on the Maidan. “I tried bungee-jumping in the UK, but my brother-in-law wouldn’t let me, because he feared I might die of a heart attack,” she laughs.

Flying, another one of her ‘hobbies’, the former NCC cadet has not been able to keep up with because of the expenses. “I had to fight a lot in those days, to get lessons at the Behala Flying Club, for which I ultimately got a scholarship. Again, I won a lot of prizes for aeromodelling with the National Cadet Corps, which I was not allowed to do at first, because I was a girl,” she says.

It was her “memorable fight” with the registrar in college that the Calcutta University graduate remembers best. “I wanted to learn rowing, but it was a strictly no-girls policy. So, one day, I got a ladder and under the sign, I scribbled ‘for boys only’. Finally, me and some other girls went to Garden Reach, where we learnt on the actual rowing boats with the big fat oars,” the mother of one recalls. “And at the Calcutta Rowing Club, I could only be a dependent member of my husband or father, which was demeaning.” It was white-water rafting in Darjeeling that the thrill-seeker headed for next.

Doing her bit for society, too, is what she believes, as a Rotarian, a member of Calcutta Social Project and Ankur. Sinha started Bhabona — Thought for Society, through which she helps out the aged in homes like Nabanir. And then there is an interest in theatre, which she feeds through various ladies clubs, including one for women advocates, directing and acting in plays. “Time is the problem. There is too little of it,” she sums up, busy planning her trip to Gulmarg in March for a skiing trip with the Johur Mountaineering Institute.

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