On March 24, 2015 India’s greatest mountaineer Malli Mastan Babu died on the Andes mountain range
in South America.
The 40-year-old Babu was a native of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh and had before his death set a world record for the fastest Seven Summit climber in the world; he achieved the feat in just 172 days.
From the humblest of backgrounds
Mastan was not born into a wealthy or literate family. He hailed from the Yerukula tribe – considered an untouchable tribe during the British rule. In fact the British listed the Yerukula tribe under the Criminal Tribal Act.
His grandfather, Malli Venkatiah, was a wandering salt seller. Subsequent reforms during the 1940s and 50s led to the abolishing of the draconian Act and government-led improvement in the standard of living of the Yerukulas, which somewhat helped Mastan’s father Mastaniah.
Mastaniah was a farmer but sent all of his four children – of which Mastan was the youngest – to school.
Born on September 3, 1974 Mastan was always a spirited, adventure-seeking child. He mastered the art of sleeping on the branches of tall trees at a very young age and also knew how to hide himself deep inside wells to escape his parents’ wrath. He climbed his first hill, near his home, when he was in Class IV. But he was truly motivated to scale summits when, while studying at Sainik School at Korukonda, he saw the statue of Lt. M. Uday Bhaskar Rao, a former student who died during the Indian Army’s Everest expedition of 1985.
Good in academics, Mastan Babu went on to get a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from NIT-Jamshedpur; obtain a master’s degree in electronics from the IIT-Kharagpur; and, after his Satyam stint, earn a post-graduate diploma in management from IIM-Calcutta.
For three years till 2001, Mastan worked at Satyam, but like many who are passionate about something and end up doing something else, he too found the job stifling.
He was good at what he did at Satyam but did not like the formal-wear, suited-booted office environment.
From office desk to mountain heights
Mastan had made up his mind to scale the peaks. He left his job and made his first trek in Sikkim from Yuksom to Dzongri at over 12,000ft. He had smelled the scent of the hills. Though he studied at IIM-C, he did not look for a job and, instead, focused his attention and energies in setting marathon records. In 2007 Mastan would run 14 half marathons in 14 days in 14 different states before finishing the year with another 8 full Marathons and 3 half marathons in 13 days, spanning 10 Indian states.
In 2006, Mastan climbed the Seven Summits on seven continents and become the first and only Indian to set the record, besides being the only one in the world to do so on different days of the week. He conquered Mt Everest on May 21.
This feat and many others that followed won Mastan widespread recognition. He was honoured with the Army Commander’s Commendation in 2007 and IIM-C’s Annual Distinguished Alumnus Award in November 2011.
Mastan Babu also shared his vast knowledge of mountaineering with those who were interested in it. He was a motivational speaker and wanted young students to take an interest in mountaineering and appreciate nature.
His feat was remarkable as much as he himself was. Three countries – Argentina, Chile and India – had launched a joint rescue operation to find him upon his disappearance on the 22,142ft Tres Cruces Sur, which he had conquered solo the same day.
When his dead body reached his native village Gandhi Jana Sangam, the topmost ministers of Andhra Pradesh came to offer condolences. Even the Prime Minister expressed grief at his passing. He was buried with state honours.
Malli Mastan Babu led an inspiring life. A bachelor, Mastan Babu was a man who succeeded in everything he set his mind to. That he rose to the heights of glory and made a place in everyone’s heart despite being from the humblest of background set by this casteist society is a story that deserves to be told to the youth of India.