Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Hundreth Everest Book: An Everest Conspiracy!

I've now read 100 books on Mount Everest, and I have to admit I've learned a lot about climbing Mount Everest. I've also learned a lot on other subjects, such as late 19th Century popular philosophy (Roper's Fatal Mountaineer), Soviet sports culture (Boukreev's Above the Clouds), the problems and delights of filming in Antarctica (Stobart's Adventurer's Eye), and the Sherpa brand of Tibetan Buddhism (Norgay's Touching My Father's Soul), to name a few. I have mixed feeling about including about 30 children's books in my count, but I feel that as long as I temporarily have a public library at my disposal with a mountain of them, I should go ahead and use that resource. I've almost run them dry, so I imagine there will be fewer covered in the future. I still can't believe what people get away with in children's literature! A mountaineer can be excused for getting a few details wrong here or there in a 300-page book, but for a professional author to have a mistake on every page in a 30-page book? Eek! Anyway, I wanted to share something special for my number 100, so I found a copy of S. M. Goswami's Everest: Is It Conquered?, a rare self-published response to the news of the 1953 ascent of the mountain. It's pretty wacky!

Goswami tells us that the 1953 ascent of Mount Everest was actually a hoax pre-planned and carried out by the imperialist Tories as a way of reasserting the British Empire and to bring about a new Elizabethan age. He takes a number of clues to prove his point, and fights the "sham" event with acrimony and bravado. A quick quote from the introduction will illustrate:

There has been no conquest of Mt. Everest in 1953. The whole story of "conquest" is nothing but a confabulation. "Conquest" means subjugation and rule. Mt. Everest yet challenges man. "Reaching the Summit" is out of the question and an abracadabra.

Another bit of acrimony that I felt compelled to share:

A fraud is a fraud and is to be taken as a crime. Nay indeed the establishment of the fact of ravishment of the virgin-peak of Mt. Everest,---falsely and designedly circulated, has gone to injure the feelings of millions of Hindus and Buddhists all over the world who look upon the sky-piercing peak of Mt. Everest as sacred: and it is a sin and sacrilegious to trample down the BELIEF with the false story of conquest of Mt. Everest. All religions have some norms spiritual. The most hardened criminal also turns saintly influenced with contrition . . . Indeed such is misty mysticism and who can clear up whether Tensing and Hillary have not come to be victims of the unknown Power, Who sees to every good or bad in the world ! !

The bulk of Goswami's argument revolves around the message and the timing of the coded telegram brought by James (now Jan) Morris down from Camp IV to Base Camp, and sent by runner to Namche Bazaar. Apparently the transcript of the message was leaked somewhere on its way to the British Embassy, and the Indian media printed the contents: "Bad weather conditions, expedition abandoned base camp twenty-ninth awaiting fair weather stop all well." Goswami states that none of their previous correspondence was written in code, so why should this telegram be any different. Additionally, even the supposed translation of the code says nowhere that Tenzing and Hillary actually got to the top of the mountain. He goes on to make the point that descending a mountain is much harder than ascending one, and that it is impossible that the news could have gotten from 27,000 feet to Namche Bazaar in a day. Goswami includes Col. Hunt's own disbelief, written in The Ascent of Everest as evidence.

Goswami continues with finding anything he can to call into question the claim, and anything he can complain about regarding the British and Mt. Everest. He, perhaps rightly so, disparages the fact that we hold the name Everest on a pedestal, but we have forgotten Radhanath Sikdar, the man who actually did the initial calculating of Everest's height. (His calling Radhanath the "actual discoverer" of the great peak is a bit questionable, though.) He believes Tenzing wanted to reveal the truth, but:

The British from time immemorial have been adepts in the use of hush-money and bribing. He [Hunt] had to silence and buy over Tensing. Tensing was virtually kidnapped by a band of designing and conspirating [sic] British journalists . . . and Tensing was indoctrinated or tempted with money or prospects. 

Additionally, Goswami includes a reproduction of an aerial photograph of Mount Everest found in the newspaper, in which the mountain is approximately two inches high, and has this to say: 

The last few hundred feet of Mt. Everest is so steep and smooth that even flakes of snow can hardly gather upon. The previous air-photographs and the air-photographs taken by the Indian Air Force . . . all go to the unmaking of the description scantily drawn by Sir Hillary. No chance exists there in having "a few whacks of the ice-axe in the firm snow."

Goswami then brings up that no man can survive at 29,000 without supplementary oxygen, and yet Edmund Hillary purports to have removed his mask for 10 minutes!

Supermen are Tensing and Hillary; everything that happened with them on the slopes of the Everest was miraculous. In fact, not only with them, but to the whole party. 

The author then goes on to state that no camera (especially color) could function at the temperature and the altitude of the top of Everest:

Even Mr. Wind was so obliging and friendly to the British colours, that he fluttered the Union Jack into prominence and Hillary imprisoned the scene for ever with his midget-camera clicking the shutter off with clumsy shaking hands ! ! 

I think Mr. Goswami errs primarily in his trusting newspapers above all other sources, and he states that they are trustworthy enough to use as evidence in a court of law. Most of his premonitions seem to be based on the local papers not matching the British papers, that many of the papers seem to contradict each other, and that the news released at the first hearing of the event does not always match the official account in details. To make each of the Indian papers infallible, he constructs a very interesting story to explain what he believes happened. He does admit:

Details of the Expedition have been given to the world in so garbled yet contradictory words, that one is left astounded to realise [sic] why so much inconsistencies had to come in if at all there was a 'victory.'

Goswami includes several appendices with his hard evidence as to the failure of the expedition, including several newspaper clippings and some letters written to news agencies with their replies. If you have a sense of humor about it, Everest: Is It Conquered? makes for an entertaining read. I would recommend finding means other than purchasing a copy to read it, however. As a postscript: It seriously worries me that Mr. Goswami's former day job was as an anti-corruption officer. With the level of anger and absurdity he is able to summon, I would NOT want to get on his bad side!

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