I first met the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary on October 27, 1990, at a programme organised by the ITBP. However, the meeting I cherish most was a more individual one and took place in March 1992 at Namche Bazaar in Nepal.
We were on an expedition to Everest and as soon as he heard of it, he invited us over for tea. Sir Edmund and his wife were very encouraging and gave us a lot of hope.
The send-off that we got for our arduous mission was very touching, especially as it was the first time that I was going to climb Everest. The legend even expressed surprise that I was from the plains and had not done mountaineering till 1986.
Thereafter, we used to meet whenever he came to India. I have even had the honour of sharing the dais with him on one occasion. We had many little conversations and these were very encouraging. He even asked me to write about my experiences.
Sir Edmund was a very great human being. Even after becoming so famous, he was not full of pride. Apart from his stature, there was also a great difference in age between us. However, he never let us feel any of these differences and always made sure we felt at ease around him.
He was very down to earth and very humble, a quality of a truly great person, especially a climber who came face to face with the great mountains. He ran a hospital and a school at Namche Bazaar, where he is revered, both of which are named after him.
The man who was very concerned about the environment, used to enjoy life at every turn and was very spontaneous. Once, after a programme at the India International Centre in New Delhi, we had to wait for a while at the entrance to the venue as the car that was to take him back to his hotel had not reached by then. Just like a college boy, Sir Edmund sat down on a stone slab and we had another session of a wonderfully enlightening conversation.
Unfortunately, there will be no more of these little conversations, only the memories of a great person will be there.