Desperately seeking signs of hope, a Pakistani peace activist recalls her friendship with the young Indian mountaineer who has gone missing in Nepal
By Sehyr Mirza
I was working at a café in Lahore 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 a sense of utmost helplessness, I read through the story published in Himalayan Times that day, 17 April 2023. It reported that Anurag had gone missing at the world’s tenth-highest peak after falling into a crevasse that afternoon. He reportedly fell from around 6,000 m 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 last interacted fairly recently. Now, for the first time ever in our ten years of friendship, the fear of not hearing back from him crept into my heart as I sent him a few messages.
Coincidentally, we had first met in 2015, not far from where I was sitting now. He had been invited by the Lahore University of Management Sciences, LUMS, to conduct an entrepreneurship event called Start Up Weekend, a three-day programme that brings together entrepreneurs, startups, and experts.
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 LUMS campus one evening, I observed a vibrant, enthusiastic youth in his mid-twenties, with a zest for life and a contagious energy that drew others towards him.
“Love in Faith. Faith in Love. Love wins. Have faith, it makes miracles and magic happen,” reads Anurag’s WhatsApp bio.
His lively aura made him stand out from the crowd and I appreciated his knack of finding joy in even the smallest things. He shared that he is always keenly looking for new experiences and adventures. He came across as a fearless, sometimes reckless soul. Also clear was his deeply compassionate heart.
Thinking about his 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 LUMS campus where he was staying. His friends were hesitant to let him travel alone but he felt quite confident going alone.
As Anurag boarded an auto rickshaw, his Pakistani friends strictly instructed him to not reveal his Indian identity to the auto driver. 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. Anurag was taken aback but the driver assured him he had nothing to worry about. It was his responsibility to drop Anurag safely to his destination.
An auto driver’s wisdom
“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 driver said.
Anurag and I first connected when he emailed me on 4 April 2013 after reading my interview with the iconic poet Gulzar published by Aman ki Asha. He shared experiences from the South Asia Youth Conference he attended in Islamabad, 2012. He also sent a photograph of him posing with famous 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 he had also shared his thoughts about how he grew up thinking that Pakistan and India are two opposite ends. But this trip gave him a wonderful opportunity to understand the people and their mindsets rather than what we are told through our history textbooks. They are different but so unique.
Anurag believed strongly in the common civilization 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 chats about our common desire to frequently 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 enthusiastically discuss the need for more initiatives to bring the two nations closer to each other, with absolutely no sense of reality even interrupting his train of thoughts and ideas. His passion for life was evident in the way he approached challenges and took opportunities with a can-do-attitude.
A five-member team of Sherpa climbers is conducting a ground search for this passionate, fearless missing 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 that is 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 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 breathed his last at Camp IV.
The first time I heard from Anurag was in April 2013. Ten years later, I’m hoping and praying that TS Eliot’s words about April being the cruellest month are not true.
With the search operation for Anurag Maloo still, underway, let’s not lose hope. Let’s continue to send him positive vibes and pray for his safe return.
Sehyr Mirza is an author and independent journalist based in Lahore. Her work has appeared in The BBC, Deutsche Welle, Dawn, The News International, Outlook India, Huffington Post, The Wire, Pakistan Today and other media outlets. She tweets at @sehyrmirza.
This article was originally published on Sapan News on April 19, 2023 and written by Sehyr Mirza.
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