The twins recently dared and successfully completed a challenging and dangerous mission to reach the North and South Poles on skis, (pulling their entire logistics weighing over 135 pounds) on sleds, over extremely rough, uneven ice at average temperatures of minus 24 degree temperatures dipping to minus 35 on some days, covering over 115 kilometres to each pole. They talk about their journey as mountaineers and adventurers, and how they broke social barriers.
There are triggers to success, and then there is a tipping point. For us ‘Doon girls, 24 now with a few minutes separating us, even scaling the tallest peak in the world together wasn’t the tipping point. It took us scaling six more, in six other continents to reach our mission and literally push the stakes of achievement higher. The intriguing part of our story? Our biggest challenges were not the mountains, but mindsets.
As part of our #Mission2for7, which began with a journey to Kilimanjaro in 2012, we successfully reached the top of seven peaks, one each in Asia, Africa, Europe, the two Americas, Papua New Guinea and Antarctica. The expedition was not only to pursue our passion, but to also prove on behalf of girls in our country that every male-dominated field can be toppled over by a woman.
To rewind our tale, let’s say we were battling against odds before even being born. Hailing from Haryana to those not acquainted means that one has to be lucky to be a girl, owing to its female foeticide and infanticide rates, the highest in the country. Not surprisingly, our region, much like the rest of North India, also witnesses widespread sexism and gender violence. We consider ourselves privileged to have faced none of this from our kin. We were always given wings to fly and achieve our dreams by our Retired Colonel father, V.S Malik. (This, despite there being no mountaineers in our family!)
We have been asked by many how we coped with climbing on our period days; the truth is, we never even thought of taking breaks. If a 29,000 foot peak could not stop us, there was no way periods would!
Our trekking and overall mountaineering experience was a lot easier because our period cycle was aligned. Many believe that women with close physical and emotional proximity are likely to share simultaneous menstrual cycles. If they are not aligned, they are likely to, with each woman’s cycle moving by a few days until both their periods occur at most three or four days to each other. We won’t call this a myth because we have always had our menstrual cycle aligned with each other! Because of this, we could plan our routes and days better, prepare for contingencies and moreover, exactly understand each other’s plight!
Let’s face it, behind all our pictures on the Everest and other peaks are not-so-hunky dory tales of avalanches and escapades from crevices, blizzards, overhangs, jagged mountain cliffs and oodles of relentless commitment. Superior sanitary protection was a necessity, not a luxury. But our period never ‘stopped’ us from achieving our goal, as it is a natural process of life.
By climbing the peaks that we did, we wanted to symbolise the mountains of challenges Indian girls surmount every day. And getting rid of menstrual taboo was one of them.
Even in circa 2015, many parents subject girls to denial, exclusion, malnutrition, lack of education and eventual economic dependence on men. When there are so many social factors, shaped by rigid centuries-old beliefs stacked against you, scaling a Mt Elbrus or a Mt McKinley seems a tad easier.
To align our daunting missions of fighting for equality for the girl child, we are proud to associate with Whisper’s ‘Touch the Pickle’ movement to ban menstrual taboos. A nation, which on one hand witnesses the most amazing breakthroughs in space and dreams of being a superpower of the century, simply cannot afford to have taboos such as those around periods.
Stepping out, going to holy places, chasing one’s passions, following one’s dreams and achieving one’s potentials cannot be restricted by a biological truth called menstruation. Achieving our mountaineering missions gave us much fulfillment, but doing so for the Indian girl child, along with Whisper, will give our lives a whole new meaning.