REHEARSING FOR THE APRIL ELECTIONS: UNHARMONIOUS PRELUDE
In the first eight weeks of 2008, the Nepali power struggle was a flurry of elbows – a mishmash of baton-wielding conductors vying over who should lead the orchestra, the result being that not enough attention was paid to the orchestra: Some musicians disdained the sheet music; some had tin ears and never should have been allowed to play in the first place; some played instruments that were either anachronistic or foreign; some couldn’t get to the hall because their cars were out of gas; and some simply boycotted the rehearsals, preferring to play the military marches of regional bands.
Sir Edmund Hillary died in January at the age of 88. The New Zealand adventurer, climber and explorer won instant worldwide acclaim in 1953 by becoming the first -- along with his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay-- to summit Mount Everest.
I can’t pretend to have known him but I did meet him about a year ago. It was at a luncheon at Lisa Choegyal’s home perched high above Nepal’s capital on the northern rim of the Kathmandu Valley. It was a casual affair. Sir Edmund was approachable and clearly interested in meeting new people when he wasn’t preoccupied with Lisa’s new puppy, which scrambled over the back of the sofa and repeatedly pounced—to the delight of Sir Edmund—on the mountaineer’s lap. The pleasure he derived from the puppy’s abuse was boyish and infectious.
Dunham, Pratima Rana Pande, Sir Hillary, Australian Ambassador Graeme Lade
We spoke for a while about my last book and then the discussion moved elsewhere. The conversation was never about him: He may have scaled 29,035 feet, but unlike so many contemporary climbers, he was grounded in modesty; that was the salient impression I took away with me.
Sir Edmund set the gold standard for foreigners who befriend Nepalis. The news of his death sent shockwaves throughout the country, particularly among the Sherpa communities nestled within the Mount Everest region. He had founded the Himalayan Trust Nepal, which established 27 schools and two hospitals within the Solukhumbu district. Almost single-handedly, he transformed the locals’ quality of life -- from impoverishment and illiteracy, to better education, health and job opportunities -- better than in most other areas of Nepal.
Sherpa woman mourning Sir Hillary's passing
He spoke sparingly but listened to all. He never expected anything in return. Sir Edmund accomplished that most rare of things: He transformed personal fame into something useful and meaningful for those who were less fortunate. That is his real legacy. An entire nation regarded him as their companion. And that was his greatest achievement.