From the peak of success to the pits of neglect, the first woman from Uttar Pradesh to scale Mount Everest has seen both aspects of life in a short span. Pain has been her only ‘reward’ so far as no government recognition has come for this unsung braveheart in her homeland.
It was virtually a solo effort by Indian Air Force (IAF) officer Toolika Rani, 28, who unfurled the tri-colour atop the mountain on May 26 this year through the sheer force of will. Digging deep into her friends and other well-wishers’ resources, she took over a year to collect Rs 20 lakh for her expedition without help from officialdom. Though her origins were modest, her goal was not. So, no odd was insurmountable for her. Not even the lack of equipment and other paraphernalia. She borrowned from the IAF for the expedition. The fact that there were only two sherpas to assist her did not daunt Rani, the fourth woman IAF officer to scale the peak.
Soon after the once-in-a-life moment, she developed frostbite in her feet. As a result, for over two months now, she has been undergoing treatment at Lucknow’s command hospital. Lying in the officer’s family ward of the hospital, the young achiever says the only acknowledgement that she has received till date is the ritualistic one from the Nepal government after the accomplishment.
“I am still to receive anything, except the congratulatory messages,” Rani says who tasted success in her second attempt.
Last year, accompanying an IAF team expedition, she had to return after scaling 22,500 feet due to cold feet. But the ambition to reach the top of the world made her set off for the summit once again on April 8.
“It is not possible for IAF to organise team expeditions annually. But I was determined to go ahead. So I went alone,” she adds.
Belonging to a family with modest means in Alipur village near Meerut, Rani received a rude shock when she came to face with the unhelpful attitude of some organisations who refused to sponsor her, saying she represented a government body. Left with no option, she borrowed money from friends.
“I thought I would return the amount (Rs 20 lakh) once I got back home as I had hoped to win recognition by then. Unfortunately, that is yet to happen,” she says, adding, “I hope the current state government will come forward to help me.”
Bachendri Pal was the first Indian woman from Garwal (then UP) to conquer Mount Everest on May 23, 1984. Now, her native village is in the neighbouring Uttarakhand after the hill state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh. Thus, Rani can rightly be called the first woman from the state to be on top of the world, literally.
A Study In Contrast
When Bachendri Pal became the fist Indian women to scale Mount Everest, the President, the Prime Minister, and J R D Tata congratulated her in person. Since then, Pal has received several awards:
Padam Shri in 1985
National Youth Award in 1985
Gold medal by the department of education of Uttar Pradesh in 1985
Arjuna Award in 1986
Listed in Guinness Book of World Records in 1990
National Adventure Award in 199
Yash Bharti Award by the government of Uttar Pradesh in 1995
Limca Book of Records in 1997
Mahila Shiromani Award in 1997
Gold medal for excellence in mountaineering by the IMF