Book Reviews

Review Published in HINDUSTAN TIMES

In love with adventure


By Peter Hillary
Hodder and Stoughton

SIR Edmund Hillary will be New Zealand's next High Commissioner to India. There could hardly be a better choice. For years stretching into decades he has known and loved the people of the sub-Continent. He came as the young adventurer and in 1953 found the pinnacle of glory in the conquering of Everest. And often again he has returned as a friend, walking mountain trails or building schools and hospitals. Friendship and empathy marked the entire relationship.

It is this impression which comes forth strongest from a reading of Hillary's latest book Two Generations. It is not just a mountaineer's book woven around an expedition. It is more a diary, a collection of notes on a treasured relationship-at least the half written by Edmund Hillary. Peter, the son, has written the second half of the book telling tales of victories and despair.

There is a lot to read in Two Generations. It tells of the changes seen by a generation of climbers, with the gradual assault on nature's privacy. The opening up of the world's unknown and a long list of 'firsts' Quite simply, it tells the story of a family in love with adventure.

Sir Edmund Hillary seems a modest man and he writes modestly. One expected at least a detailed, dramatic account of the first successful assault on Everest but Hillary runs it off in hardly two pages and often makes it sound like a weekend walk up a slightly less-than-gentle hillside. The moment of triumph reads: "Then I saw the ridge drop away to the North and above me was a rounded snow dome. A few more whacks with my ice-axe and Tenzing and I stood on the top of Everest. It was 11.30 A.M. May 29th 1953"- And on the way down. "... I felt a sense of satisfaction at our success, but no great surge of overwhelming joy-after all, we'd only just climbed a mountain, hadn't we?". Some mountain that - the harsh and violently inhospitable roof of the world swathed in ice and snow.

It is this modesty laced with warmth and humanity that makes Edmund Hillary's account eminently readable. Drawn irresistibly to these parts he has sought adventure in varied forms. As in the dramatic From the Ocean to the Skies jet-boat ride up the Ganges. People watched from the banks in the thousands as the boats swept upwards in a strange pilgrimage up the holiest of rivers.

Through three decades Sir Edmund Hillary has been coming to the sub-Continent to grapple with its mountains and its rivers. The tourists' India had passed him by. When he mentioned this to his Sharper friend Mingma Tsering, the latter gave an answer which can form a personal philosophy-"better some time you go looking, looking". And for once Hillary stopped doing and went looking - to the "Taj Mahal, the beaches of Goa, the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, the red cities of Rajasthan and the house-boats of Kashmir". But between the climbing of Everest and the touring of India, there was a difference. Tragedy had struck the family when an airplane crashed just off the Kathmandu runway taking away Edmund Hillary's wife and daughter.

But there was Peter. The striving son trying to live away from his father's shadow. An adventurer in his own right climbing, sking and flying. And even writing. Peter Hillary writes well and with a terse sense of humour. His portion of the book is largely made up of family recollections and a detailed description of an attempt on Everest's lofty neighbour- the peak of Lhotse which stands at a staggering 27,900 ft. The team had to abandon the attempt at the last moment because of disastrous weather but the attempt was made without oxygen and with the climbers carrying their own minimum loads.

The book has some magnificent-pictures- of the Everest ice-fall, Lhotse and the East face, of Peter sking down Mount Aspiring and of the sun returning to Antarctica after a very, very long night.

There is also some poetry by Peter and a choice piece in the form of an auto-definition which speaks for itself. ".... I imagine myself to be an insouciant character, born for the sixties but arriving too late to fill that mould. Still coining sixties cliches. I marched into the seventies expecting it to be my developmental arena; somewhere to find my niche. Hey, man. The seventies were the pits. No one demonstrated for peace any more, they just cultivated paranoias. The intensity of this particular decade was quite bizarre and that really bugged me. Why? why do you think? This was supposed to be my decade when I was supposed to flower... metaphorically speaking. The world was going to the dogs. David Bowie said it all with "diamond Dogs". Confusion ruled, as I see it. So according to time's relentless plan, I was spat out at the end of the sinister, seventies and into the awesome eighties, the decade of 1984 .... The place was going to the pack. Our choices were few and the options were pretty dismal; that is , if it wasn't for the hills. Where a man could wonder and think. He could perspire and enjoy it. He could stand tall without worrying if his body language was all wrong and some dude might come up and hit him for it. Yeh, it's a place where a bloke can still go do heroic feats when nobody is around to watch and say you didn't do it right".