IIM Calcutta alumnus, Malli Mastan Babu, the Fastest Seven-Summiteer in the world and the first Indian to achieve the incredible feat of scaling the 7 tallest peaks in the world speaks about dreams, challenges and conquering your own Everest in a candid interview
Being one of our most illustrious alumni, what does it feel like to come back to campus and continually inspire so many freshers?
It’s always great to come back to Campus and feel a part of this community even after passing out from here. I look at new batches of students and I put myself in their place. Having gone through similar sequence of events, I understand their hopes, doubts and apprehensions. I understand how hectic it would be for any first year student but it is good fun once you start enjoying the process of learning. However, I would like to stress upon prioritising here. Life doesn’t end after one is done with the course at IIMC or after getting a good job. Health management is important for a better career and a better life.
Was mountaineering a childhood ambition or you gradually picked it up over the years?
It wasn’t an ambition but yes, ever since I remember I have enjoyed being close to nature. It took me a while to accept that and then to choose to lead a life in the company of nature. After that, I figured the activities that would help me do that and also help me to learn lessons from Mother Nature. Since then, I have been associated with mountaineering. I’m also good at other adventure sports but I want to focus mainly on mountaineering.
You rightly mentioned that we, as students, should not be here to blindly chase that day zero job and focus on our bigger dreams. That is a point of view that almost all of our Professors share. So, can you elaborate on the factors that made you realize this and choose something as unconventional as mountaineering right after you completed your studies at IIM Calcutta?
At the time of joining the Campus, my perception was similar to others about getting into the Corporate Sector. But as time progressed and I sat through class discussions, I realized that all I was looking for was to become a good manager. I wanted to cultivate qualities such as empathy, understanding, problem solving that make one a good manager. Also, discussions with Professors about the importance of new ideas, their successful execution and the joy of creating something got me eager to re-consider my expectations from the Institute. So it was no longer about just getting a job, I gained the confidence to think about other avenues like entrepreneurship.
IIMC has taken a positive step forward and the incoming batch has a very healthy number of female students. What, in your opinion, are the ways to encourage more women in our country to participate in activities such as mountaineering?
Earlier, Indian women were told what they could or could not do but now they have better exposure to the international scenario and know that women in other countries are making themselves equivalent to men in terms of physical training, strength and are participating in activities traditionally considered to be male bastions. In India too, women are making it big in various walks of life. However, activities such as mountaineering require qualities like fitness and discipline that have to be cultivated individually. Nobody can deny women the will to do that, so it is up to them to make the choice. Female students who come to institutes of higher education such as IIMC and are exposed to extra-curricular activities such as mountaineering, should grab the opportunity.
When I started out, I didn’t have the support of my family. If I were a girl, I would have faced the same opposition but probably with more intensity. Even in that case, having made so far in my journey, I don’t think I would have back-tracked under any pressure. Women who come here can see the changing atmospheres in their homes too, their choices are respected and their capabilities trusted. So I will re-iterate, it’s all about having the requisite will-power and discipline.
You have completed your education at IIMC not quite long ago and whenever you visit the Campus, you might have noticed that that some things don’t change around here. So there would be valued memories from your batch that may be relevant even for the current students. Could you share your thoughts on some of these things?
One thing that catches the attention is the nature of bonding between the students. It has changed from the time I was here as a student. See, the Profs can help as mentors when approached, but bonding among the students cannot be replaced by that. Friendships develop only when you see someone sacrificing something for you, be it time or emotions and sharing makes you trust others and feel secure. That thing is no longer there. It has to be stressed that the batch one belongs to is not as important as the IIMC student community in general. And this feeling of belonging to the same group comes from helping others. There are various ways to do that around here. The idea is to give confidence to your mates, whether they’re struggling with grades or the ability to present themselves. Relationships built here last lifetimes, I was helped and encouraged by such relationships even while doing the seven summits. I observe that the buzzword doing the rounds is “networking”. However, there is observable lack of trust in the name of networking, especially when you are not being yourself and trying too hard to be friends with everyone. In my opinion, it is better to maintain a group close friends but be honest and genuine with others too. What makes any B school experience life-altering and unique is the confidence of the students that they have great ideas. When that happens, dependency on jobs, recruiters and interviews reduces. In the long run you will cherish not the brand of IIMC but the two years of your life that you spent here.
And my mountaineering experience has taught me a very important lesson that I want to share with the entire IIMC community.
We as humans believe we are in control of our lives, our careers, our surroundings. We believe that we are very great. But when you stand on top of the tallest peak in the world, you realize how truly small and insignificant we are! It is a truly humbling experience to see Mother Nature at her finest yet in her most challenging manifestation. We should realize that individually we are all very small but united we can achieve great things. This is what I want to convey to the IIMCians today.
You are the founder of our adventure club. How would you like to see Armageddon evolve in the future?
Well, I personally endorse moving away from flashy names and too much marketing for the Club. We should have only genuinely-interested adventure seekers in the club! Armageddon is doing a great job. There should be even more adventurous treks, when the students are encouraged to help one another. That is the point of having all these clubs in the Campus. One should join clubs that one is really interested in. No point in being a part of ‘n’ number of clubs but not having sufficient time to contribute substantially in any of them. Rather, do what you like and where you see the scope to learn and enjoy.
For the adventure club, it would be ideal if all smaller activities that go on throughout the year lead to one big adventurous trek. That would be the flagship event of the club and would make the club one-of-its-kind
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