As The Himalayan Club turns 90, Mirror takes a look at the journal, put together in the city, that has recorded its journey.
Our tent is full in every sense with fl esh, fart, kit and pluck, our word-length down to five and four like b***s, sh*t and f**k. — Ballad of Bethartoli
High up on Bethartoli South in the Garhwal Himalaya, John Nanson penned his suffering during a climb in 1977. In the genial climes of Mumbai a couple of years later, it left a few gentlemen scratching their heads as they let the line sink in.
Harish Kapadia was at the heart of it, having just taken over as the editor of The Himalayan Journal from Soli Mehta after his decadelong tenure. Climbing and exploration came easily to Kapadia, but when it came to the nuances of editing, he was a relative greenhorn. Were the invectives really acceptable in print?
Across the table were two stalwarts, who had enough experience of literature and the mountains between them. The puritan in Jagdishbhai Nanavati refused to allow such language to creep into a journal as prestigious as this. On the other hand, R.E. Hawkins, a former general manager of the Oxford University Press, reached for the dictionary.
“Well, he said, f**k is an action and b***s refers to a body part, surely we can let it be,” Kapadia recalls Hawkins saying.
In that moment, Kapadia realised that at times, editing the journal could get as complicated as making decisions at high altitude. “We are open to any correctly used word in the journal after that,” Kapadia guffaws, as he reminiscences of those days in the 70s.
After The Himalayan Club was established in 1928, the plan to record the activities of the club — both on and off the mountain — was conceived at the annual meeting. With that in mind, the first edition of the journal was rolled out in 1929. It was a time when exploration was at its peak, with most mountains still wild and their lonely summits being chased by parties from around the world. The journal would document these escapades, which would be valuable reference in the years to come.
Since Dr. K Biswas took over as the first Indian editor in 1960, members of The Himalayan Club took on the onus of documenting the many affairs with the Himalayas. Nine years later, Mehta, who solely ran the journal from Calcutta, moved its headquarters to Mumbai. At its new home, the club and its activities were revived by a buzzing community that frequently visited the Sahyadris.
Long before this though, the first edition of the journal was released under the keen eye of Kenneth Mason, a surveyor posted in Shimla until the advent of World War II, followed by the Partition of India, brought a halt to the activities. In fact, then editor H.W.Tobin went as far as penning an obituary of the journal in 1947. But through the efforts of like-minded folks, The Himalayan Journal has survived 72 editions, even as The Himalayan Club celebrated its 90th year last month.
While editing the journal was a major part of the editor’s job, the bigger task was to keep an ear on far-flung areas. The journal went beyond the purview of documentation, at times, even exposing false summit claims through the keen eyes of experts. Being a climber had its advantages for Kapadia, though there were some things that were beyond him as well. “We would get a list of all expeditions and contact the climbers to write something. Most were happy to contribute, but not all,” he says.
“I got the Polish climber, Jerzy Kukuczka (the second man to climb all the 14, 8,000 metre mountains) to write with great difficulty. Most times, his wife would reply saying he’s gone on an expedition. British climbers such as John Hunt, Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, Stephen Venables and Victor Saunders — perhaps obliged to contribute to a journal started by their countrymen — were certainly more receptive. Kapadia even approached the community in Japan, Korea, Russia, Hungary and Poland, and even Indian mountaineers, who were well-versed in the native tongue, and asked them to send something in their smattering of English.
“If the climb is worth it and it deserves an article, we have always been happy to reword it,” Kapadia says. Once Kapadia called it a day in 2010, Rajesh Gadgil, who had been climbing since 1988, took on the job. “I realised how valuable this journal was. I had read about the expeditions of Kapadia and Bonington in the East Karakoram. It inspired me to go explore this region and we hope to do the same for the next generation,” he says.
Articles are picked based on the quality of the climb and the narrative. For instance, an Everest climb these days would not make the cut, unless pulled off under extraordinary circumstances. The editor’s post is voluntary and current editor Nandini Purandare, a qualified economist, says the work is a yearlong affair. She dedicates time for it alongside her job as developer of the curriculum for the NGO Avehi Abacus. Over the years, the scope of the journal has extended to subjects such as arts and culture, wildlife, anthropology, geography and ecotourism.
“I hassle writers to give me something for the journal. I once asked Bill Aitken to write something different, and he came up with a fantastic piece about the covers of all the volumes and how they have evolved over the years,” Purandare says.
As part of the 90th year celebrations, Purandare planned a special volume, designed on the lines of the first few editions that picks out articles between 1929 and 1947. For now though, it’s back to planning the next edition and reaching out to folks united by a common love.