Thursday, January 17, 2008

Slaves Again

As a new year arrived and made itself comfortable, three thinkers – two of my friends and I – decided to offer it a beverage as a mark of our hospitality to guests…a stimulant…a stimulating conversation. Presented here is the decoction from one of the threads and the coffee I prepared thereafter.

This is my latest post on the January theme of POLITICS on the Writers Blend. Read the whole article here:

Keep The Faith!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Reality of Brightness – Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow by Maria Coffey

A pioneer has passed away…people summiting the Everest today might have to climb a tad lesser as the Mountain must have bowed its head to mourn the loss of the first one who dared to conquer the highest peak on Earth. Everest will miss Sir Edmund Hillary who introduced Everest to civilization.

Sir Hillary’s death has only a slight relief about it – he did not die on the mountains or at the poles…out in the cold vast desert, away from friends and family and worse, mysteriously. It is the consequence of this kind of loss, the fallout that Maria Coffey’s book ‘Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow’ talks about. Aptly titled and descriptively sub-titled ‘The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure’, the book is an earnest account of the lives of a guilty multitude…guilty of loving the people who loved them but loved the mountains better, and guilty of loving them despite knowing that they always loved the mountains better. It exposes the emotional consequence that high-altitude mountaineering and worse, losing a loved one on the mountains has on the lives of those left behind.

Disarming, disillusioning and distressing. Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow is all of these and more. It is a saga of human endurance, of the complicated dynamics of our relationships and of the embers that are left simmering long after the fire is gone.

Maria Coffey's simple yet stark style of writing disarms one upfront and makes one plunge into the lives of the families of High Altitude Mountaineers. One sees them torn between two loves - their's for the mountaineers, and the mountaineer's for the mountains. The mountains are jealous lovers, yet the mountaineers go back to them leaving everything behind and the ones who love them are left waiting...sometimes forever.

This side of the story of the celebrities of mountaineering is disillusioning - the stardom comes with a price, only the price is paid by the families. And the distressing part is to see the families and friends caught between the two loves with nowhere to go.

The book is divided into well-defined chapters dealing with distinct aspects of High Altitude Mountaineering and with distinct perspectives on the same. Separate chapters have been dedicated to voices of partners, parents and children of the mountaineers. One chapter deals with what the mountaineers themselves have to say about their indulgence. And in the end the book weaves all of this together in a fine quilt of realization wrapped in which the readers may find some warmth.

Maria talks very honestly about what she went through after losing her partner Joe Tasker, who disappeared without a trace on the Everest. And that lends the book a colossal amount of authenticity. As a person who has been a part of the circle of elites comprising of mountaineers and their close ones and known them all closely, who has been at the receiving end of an emotional blow dealt by the mountains and who has lived through it and found life again with en equally graceful partner Dag Goering, one trusts Maria to have painted nothing but the real picture in the book. Any deviation from that would be a betrayal of a memory – both fond and painful. The last sentence of the book hits one hard with its starkness, truth and irony in the context of the book – ‘Joe’s death jolted me alive’.

All said and done, the book somehow does not make extreme sports seem repulsive...somewhere it only exposes and hence eases the acceptance of the choice made by our loved ones. Helen Keller had said, "If you keep your eyes to the sun, you won't see the shadow". This book turns your attention towards the shadows - the reality of brightness. And the hard truth is, for someone looking at the far away sun, it is only the shadow that is closer.

Highly recommended reading.