In the 8th edition of TEDxGateway that took place on 4 February 2018 in Mumbai, celebrated mountaineer twin sisters Tashi and Nungshi Malik were among the speakers. Popularly known as ‘Everest twins’, Nungshi and Tashi have had several global landmark achievements. In 2013, barely 21 years old, they became world’s first female twins to scale Mount Everest. Within just 2 years from that feat, they scaled highest peaks in all the continents and skied to the North and South Poles becoming the world’s first siblings and twins, as well as the first and only South Asians to complete the ‘Adventurers Grand Slam’. At that time they were also the world’s youngest persons to achieve it. They are also the world’s first female twins to climb Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak and a virgin peak at 21000 ft in Indian Himalayas. As many as 25 motivational speakers from different walks of life spoke on varied topics ranging from science, inventions to creative art forms at the TEDx event, whose theme this year was ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. The Statesman spoke to the sisters to know about their struggle, achievement and plans. Excerpts of an email interview:
What prompted to you to opt for professional mountaineering? At what age you decided that? What was the attraction?
Nungshi: From the age of 18, Tashi and I were exposed to mountaineering, which to us were perhaps a late start. And compared to the West too, I’ll say we kind of started pretty late in life. We took time to figure out our internal strength. The first exposure to climbing 90,000 feet peak at the Indian Himalayas made us realise that as girls we are capable of so many things that we are told otherwise. And honestly, people around us, the society, peers and family members were absolutely against it. They felt we were too fragile and they treated our dreams with a lot of scorn. But, Tashi and I finally succeeded in getting a green signal from everybody.
Tashi: Right now, we don’t even have any facilities where we can call ourselves professional mountaineers. For a while, that has been one of our agendas. We have been working towards making this our career and also helping people who follow this path. So, usually people take this up. They do it for the first time, then the second time and then give up due to lack of opportunities. But in life no matter what you do, you should strive for excellence and keep pushing harder. It’s been exciting and we have got lot of attention. For the West, it’s completely a different game. We have been invited all over the world to talk about our story. But our industry needs to have more of female participants. It’s not about the competition but just about being the best version of you and following your dream.
You are twins, but choices and interests can differ. How come neither of you think that she will do something else?
Tashi: You know the beauty is because we are twins and have been together for almost 25 years now. I think everything that we both do is in sync. If Nungshi dropped a clipboard, I would want to do the same. It’s a curiosity that we have built for each other and our interests have luckily been the same. We are just a copy of each other.
Nungshi: Our interests do not match in bits and ounces and the twigs of element come into play but telepathically we end up doing the same thing. We are just the opposite sides of magnet and that’s why, I guess, we attract each other and keep ourselves complete. We need a buddy always by our side and I think this is a gift we have given each other. It gets little hard for girls when they are going out, or climbing but when it’s a sister, it’s always your right and left hand. So basically, we help each other out. We don’t have to wish for friends, because we always have each other. And it’s a bonus to have a twin.
Since you have so many feathers to your cap, which summit was the most satisfactory?
Tashi: Perhaps North America was the most satisfactory climb because before we left, we heard about so many mountaineers who have retreated with frost bites and up to 25% amputation. And there were people who jumped Denali in second and third attempt because it is one of the most technically sound peaks out of the seven summits.
Nungshi: So, me and my sister did it on the first attempt was perhaps a very accomplishing feat. It’s what we cherish a lot keeping in mind, the money and the travel all the way to Alaska. I thought, I will probably not come back. And it was a very daunting experience but totally worth it.
How did you come in contact Samina Baig of Pakistan and then planned a summit together to foster ties between the two neighbours?
Tashi: When you have ten people in the team, it is not mandatory to be in terms with all the members and climb with the other climbers. But with Samina, initially we were quite anxious as we hailed from different nations. And people have heard about conflict between the two nations and I guess they were initially little sensitive too. But the moment we stepped out and we were just talking to her, we kind of saw what her dream was all about. She spoke a different language but shared the same passion. And for us, our journey became so special. I remember Samina coming from the region of Pakistan where she met no outsider. She kind of connected with us in so many ways and opened out completely. And for us, we were like three sisters. But there were some special moments which we have shared and if we write a book someday, she will be there. She would leave her tent and come and sleep with us. And with time, this bond became very special.
What inspires you the most?
Tashi: I guess this whole circle of life. We have fallen more for heights than highs in life and I guess that’s what keep pushing us to do all the adventure. But also, at the same time, it is the drive to do something unique and extraordinary. Our biggest inspiration is our dad who allowed us to follow our dreams and passion. It is quite rare because when we talk to our friends, they are like, “NungshiTashi we are so envious of you because if we tell our parents ki we want to climb mountains, they will be like, tum log stairs hi chad lo”. I think dad has been the sort of strength. Like he has always been the man who has encouraged us to do what we do best and be the best version of ourselves.
What message did you convey at the TEDxGateway?
Nungshi: Just follow your passion and be committed. Never give up and continue to strive and do whatever you do best and make things happen. There are people who travel a lot and have new experiences; but those who do not really travel outside Mumbai or are confined to their office places, for them, experiencing the world through the lens of other speakers was worth it.
What else you want to accomplish now?
Tashi: This is just the beginning of our journey. From the adventure side, we continue to climb mountains. Our biggest dream is to do the Borai caps, the whole length of Para Guinea, Greenland, North Pole and South Pole combined which is 5,000 kilometres on skies. Don’t be surprised if Tashi and I eventually do it. And in terms of our foundation, we would want to get more girls to our industry. For now, all these are in the forefront.
What are the areas where you have contrasting interests, likings and choices?
Tashi: I’m sure there are many and also, we fight all the time. There has to be contrasting interests for sure. But Nungshi and I complement each other. We don’t even share secrets.
Nughshi: In terms of technology, one of us is tech savvy and the other one is not. I won’t take names but there are few of these areas, where we are very different. Like one of us is an introvert while the other is an extrovert.
What other sport(s) do you follow?
Tashi: We grew up playing a lot of sports. We were absolutely into hockey. We have played hockey nationals. We have pretty much played all sports in terms of badminton, basketball, table tennis and we have represented our schools in all of that. Also, we are ardent fans of hockey and we love to play that on and off. We follow Fifa. Whenever there is football world cup, we are glued to the TV screens.
What is NungshiTashi Foundation exactly doing and what plan do you have to make a difference?
Tashi: Currently, we are working on the Outdoor Leadership School where we are planning to engage a lot of youth in our community so that they could get a feel of what the outdoors are like. They would learn from the outdoors. Apart from that, we will continue to run local leadership programmes for corporate houses and train girls so that it is easy for them to self-express themselves in the areas of life. Basically, making India an outdoor nation and bringing the whole culture of spending time outdoors. Just getting out there and experiencing life beyond books. Usually we are just exposed to books but we can learn so much from the outdoors. Our foundation will focus more on the quality. We will bring education and leadership through the program.
How deep-rooted is gender discrimination in India?
Nunghsi: Yes, they are deep rooted. Even in the media, you hear about the crimes against women in the country and the lack of opportunities faced by them in general. And this happens just not in India but around the world. It is the harsh reality. Look at the everyday instances, the issues women have to face in the community. People don’t pay heed to what is important. With all the episodes that happen to women, it kind of takes away their self-confidence and self-esteem to a large extent and that perhaps needs to be changed. We may talk about women empowerment, but it would be nice to see more women as mentors and role models. What we have realised from all our travels is that sometimes women themselves can be a hinderance to their actions. We should build a network of strong women who can support one another.
Tashi: Even in villages today, men tell women what should be done, like fetching water from 10 kilometres away. That is a bummer. But things are changing slowly. Girls are doing great in sports now and people see that as an inspiration. I think this is a topic that cannot come to a conclusion. India is going through a phase where there is development happening and I think we see the change slowly. We are in a transition phase right now and women are doing extremely well. There will soon be more platforms where we see strong women.