Prayers for his return: A friend from across the border waits for an Indian mountaineer to be rescued

Anurag maloo

Prayers for his return: A friend from across the border waits for an Indian mountaineer to be rescued

Climber Anurag Maloo went missing while descending from Nepal’s Mount Annapurna on April 17.

Sehyr Mirza

I was sitting at a café in Lahore and working when I received the shattering news that my friend, mountaineer, climate athlete, and entrepreneur Anurag Maloo, had gone missing at Mount Annapurna in Nepal.

Grappling with helplessness, I read through the story published in the Himalayan Times that day, April 17. It reported that Maloo had gone missing at the world’s 10th-highest peak after falling into a crevasse that afternoon. He reportedly fell from around 6,000 meters into a deep crevasse while descending from Camp III.

A chill ran through my body. I checked our WhatsApp chat window and saw that we had interacted fairly recently. In 10 years of friendship, the fear of not hearing back from him crept into my heart.

Coincidentally, we had first met not far from where I was sitting now. It was 2015 and he had been invited by the Lahore University of Management Sciences to conduct an entrepreneurship event Start Up Weekend.

Anurag Maloo with His Friend
The author with Anurag Maloo. Credit: Anurag Maloo, courtesy Sapan News.

A meeting in Lahore

Anurag had facilitated the event with zeal, and it was heartening to witness the overwhelmingly positive response from the largely youthful Pakistani audience.

During a conversation on a long walk through the university campus one evening, I observed a vibrant, enthusiastic person in his mid-20s with a zest for life and a contagious energy that drew others.

His lively aura made him stand out and I appreciated his knack of finding joy in the smallest of things. He said that he was always looking for new experiences and adventures. He came across as a fearless, sometimes reckless soul. Also evident was his deeply compassionate heart.

“Love in Faith. Faith in Love. Love wins. Have faith, it makes miracles and magic happen,” reads his WhatsApp bio.

His faith and fearlessness reminds me of an incident from his visit to Lahore that he shared with me after returning home to Rajasthan. One evening, he had to find transport back to the university campus where he was staying. His friends were hesitant to let him travel alone but he felt confident going alone.

As Anurag boarded an autorickshaw, his Pakistani friends strictly instructed him to not reveal his Indian identity. Along the ride, Anurag learnt that the driver was just 22 and married. “As we got talking, I spilled the beans,” Anurag told me. The driver told Anurag about his life and family in Lahore – and that his father had been a prisoner of war for three years in India. But the driver assured Anurag he had nothing to worry about. It was his responsibility to drop Anurag safely to his destination.

“I asked him why he sounded so positive. What he said next was powerful,” Anurag told me.

“What happened to my father is a thing of the past, why should we, as young people, hold up negative emotions against each other? Such hostility will come in the way of a shared bright future that we can work together to shape,” the autorickshaw driver told Anurag.

Anurag Maloo and friends
At the South Asia Youth Conference in Islamabad in 2012. Credit: Anurag Maloo, courtesy Sapan News.

Cross-border friends

Anurag and I first connected when he emailed me on 4 April 2013 after reading my interview with the poet Gulzar published by Aman ki Asha. He shared experiences from the South Asia Youth Conference he had attended in Islamabad in 2012. He also sent a photograph of him Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali.

“Thanks for the experience of a lifetime, Pakistan! Thank you for making me fall in love not just with your country but also with your people, culture and lifestyle,” wrote Anurag in his email.

In his first email, Anurag had also written about how he grew up thinking that Pakistan and India are two opposite ends. But this trip gave him an opportunity to understand people and their mindsets rather than what is told through history textbooks. They are different but unique.

Anurag believed strongly in the common civilisation shared by India and Pakistan. “It seems visible even today looking at the twin sister cities, Delhi-Lahore and Mumbai-Karachi,” he said.

We would often have heart-warming conversations about our common desire to visit the other side. I would invite him to Lahore and he would invite me to Rajasthan. But these plans never came to anything, thanks to the intractable visa regimes between our two countries.

He would often talk the need for more initiatives to bring the two countries closer, with absolutely no sense of reality interrupting his train of thoughts. His passion for life was evident in the way he approached challenges and took opportunities with a can-do attitude.

Waiting, hoping

A five-member team of Sherpa climbers is conducting a ground search for this passionate and fearless climber, and aerial searches are also underway.

Anurag’s brother Ashish Maloo has created an online petition with the hashtag #BringAnuragBack, seeking support from the Indian and Nepali governments to send a special rescue team trained to operate in such risky terrain.

He would always have “the Indian flag by his side, ready to be hoisted across the world’s highest peaks”, says the petition.

I desperately draw hope from the fact that Indian climber Baljeet Kaur, who had gone missing above Camp IV, has been recovered and evacuated. The evacuation of three others from Camp IV also gives some hope – Pakistani climbers Shehroze Kashif, Naila Kiani and Indian climber Arjun Vajpai – they had reportedly fallen ill while descending from the summit point. Tragically, 10-time Everest summiteer Noel Hanna from Northern Ireland died at Camp IV.

The first time I heard from Anurag was in April 2013. Ten years later, I’m hoping and praying that poet TS Eliot’s words about April being the cruellest month are not true. With the search operation for Anurag Maloo still underway, there is still hope. Let us pray for his safe return.

Sehyr Mirza is an author and independent journalist based in Lahore. Her Twitter handle is @sehyrmirza.

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