1. The only woman in the world who has scaled Mt Everest twice was born in a society where the birth of a son was regarded as a blessing, and a daughter, though not considered a curse, was not generally welcome. When her mother was expecting Santosh, a travelling ‘holy man’, giving her his blessing, assumed that she wanted a son. But, to everyone’s surprise, the unborn child’s grandmother, who was standing close by, told him that they did not want a son. The ‘holy man’ was also surprised! Nevertheless, he gave the requested blessing ... and as destiny would have it, the blessing seemed to work. Santosh was born the sixth child in a family with five sons, a sister to five brothers. She was born in the small village of Joniyawas of Rewari District in Haryana.
2. The girl was given the name ‘Santosh’, which means contentment. But Santosh was not always content with her place in a traditional way of life. She began living life on her own terms from the start. Where other girls wore traditional Indian dresses, Santosh preferred shorts. Looking back, she says now, “From the very beginning I was quite determined that if I chose a correct and a rational path, the others around me had to change, not me.”
3. Santosh’s parents were affluent landowners who could afford to send their children to the best schools, even to the country’s capital, New Delhi, which was quite close by. But, in line with the prevailing custom in the family, Santosh had to make do with the local village school. So, she decided to fight the system in her own quiet way when the right moment arrived. And the right moment came when she turned sixteen. At sixteen, most of the girls in her village used to get married. Santosh was also under pressure from her parents to do the same.#
4. A marriage as early as that was the last thing on her mind. She threatened her parents that she would never marry if she did not get a proper education. She left home and got herself enrolled in a school in Delhi. When her parents refused to pay for her education, she politely informed them of her plans to earn money by working part time to pay her school fees. Her parents then agreed to pay for her education.
5. Wishing always to study “a bit more” and with her father slowly getting used to her urge for more education, Santosh passed the high school examinations and went to Jaipur. She joined Maharani College and got a room in Kasturba Hostel. Santosh remembers, “Kasturba Hostel faced the Aravalli Hills. I used to watch villagers from my room, going up the hill and suddenly vanishing after a while. One day I decided to check it out myself. I found nobody except a few mountaineers. I asked if I could join them. To my pleasant surprise, they answered in the affirmative and motivated me to take to climbing.”
6. Then there was no looking back for this determined young girl. She saved money and enrolled in a course at Uttarkashi’s Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. “My college semester in Jaipur was to end in April but it ended on the nineteenth of May. And I was supposed to be in Uttarkashi on the twenty-first. So, I did not go back home; instead, I headed straight for the training. I had to write a letter of apology to my father without whose permission I had got myself enrolled at Uttarkashi.”
7. Thereafter, Santosh went on an expedition every year. Her climbing skills matured rapidly. Also, she developed a remarkable resistance to cold and the altitude. Equipped with an iron will, physical endurance and an amazing mental toughness, she proved herself repeatedly. The culmination of her hard work and sincerity came in 1992, just four years after she had shyly asked the Aravalli mountaineers if she could join them. At barely twenty years of age, Santosh Yadav scaled Mt Everest, becoming the youngest woman in the world to achieve the feat. If her climbing skills, physical fitness, and mental strength impressed her seniors, her concern for others and desire to work together with them found her a special place in the hearts of fellow climbers.
8. During the 1992 Everest mission, Santosh Yadav provided special care to a climber who lay dying at the South Col. She was unfortunately unsuccessful in saving him. However, she managed to save another climber, Mohan Singh, who would have met with the same fate had she not shared her oxygen with him.
9. Within twelve months, Santosh found herself a member of an Indo-Nepalese Women’s Expedition that invited her to join them. She then scaled the Everest a second time, thus setting a record as the only woman to have scaled the Everest twice, and securing for herself and India a unique place in the annals of mountaineering. In recognition of her achievements, the Indian government bestowed upon her one of the nation’s top honours, the Padmashri.
10. Describing her feelings when she was literally ‘on top of the world’, Santosh has said, “It took some time for the enormity of the moment to sink in... Then I unfurled the Indian tricolour and held it aloft on the roof of the world. The feeling is indescribable. The Indian flag was flying on top of the world. It was truly a spiritual moment. I felt proud as an Indian.” Also a fervent environmentalist, Santosh collected and brought down 500 kilograms of garbage from the Himalayas.
1. THERE is something disarming about Maria Sharapova, something at odds with her ready smile and glamorous attire. And that something in her lifted her on Monday, 22 August 2005 to the world number one position in women’s tennis. All this happened in almost no time. Poised beyond her years, the Siberian born teenager took just four years as a professional to reach the pinnacle.
2. However, the rapid ascent in a fiercely competitive world began nine years before with a level of sacrifice few children would be prepared to endure. Little Maria had not yet celebrated her tenth birthday when she was packed off to train in the United States. That trip to Florida with her father Yuri launched her on the path to success and stardom. But it also required a heart-wrenching two-year separation from her mother Yelena. The latter was compelled to stay back in Siberia because of visa restrictions. The nine-year-old girl had already learnt an important lesson in life — that tennis excellence would only come at a price.
3. “I used to be so lonely,” Maria Sharapova recalls. “I missed my mother terribly. My father was working as much as he could to keep my tennis-training going. So, he couldn’t see me either.
4. “Because I was so young, I used to go to bed at 8 p.m. The other tennis pupils would come in at 11 p.m. and wake me up and order me to tidy up the room and clean it.
5. “Instead of letting that depress me, I became more quietly determined and mentally tough. I learnt how to take care of myself. I never thought of quitting because I knew what I wanted. When you come from nothing and you have nothing, then it makes you very hungry and determined ... I would have put up with much more humiliation and insults than that to steadfastly pursue my dream.”
6. That toughness runs through Maria even today. It was the key to her bagging the women’s singles crown at Wimbledon in 2004 and to her meteoric rise to the world number one spot the following year.
7. While her journey from the frozen plains of Siberia to the summit of women’s tennis has touched the hearts of tennis fans, for the youngster herself there appears to be no room for sentiment. The straight looks and the answers she gives when asked about her ambition make it amply clear that she considers the sacrifices were worth it. “I am very, very competitive. I work hard at what I do. It’s my job.” This is her mantra for success.
8. Though Maria Sharapova speaks with a pronounced American accent, she proudly parades her Russian nationality. Clearing all doubts, she says, “I’m Russian. It’s true that the U.S. is a big part of my life. But I have Russian citizenship. My blood is totally Russian. I will play the Olympics for Russia if they want me.”
9. Like any number of teenaged sensations, Maria Sharapova lists fashion, singing and dancing as her hobbies. She loves reading the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle. Her fondness for sophisticated evening gowns appears at odds with her love of pancakes with chocolate spread and fizzy orange drinks.
10. Maria Sharapova cannot be pigeon-holed or categorised. Her talent, unwavering desire to succeed and readiness to sacrifice have lifted her to the top of the world. Few would grudge her the riches she is now reaping. This is what she has to say about her monetary gains from tennis: “Of course, money is a motivation. Tennis is a business and a sport, but the most important thing is to become number one in the world. That’s the dream that kept me going.”
National Council of Educational Research and Training (2006). Beehive. Reach for the Top (pp.99-109). Published at the Publication Division by the Secretary, National Council of Educational Research and Training, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi.