Still feeling on top of the world

MALAYSIANS should not overdo things just to get fame, says Datuk M. Magendran, who is the first Malaysian to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest.

“Why do we do things like the biggest roti canai or biggest tosai in Malaysia? What is the message? What are you trying to prove?

“Don’t do something just to get into the Malaysian Book of Records. That is not the right mindset.

“When you do something, make it worthwhile. It must carry some kind of message. Somebody must benefit out of it,” he says.

Magendran should know.

When he and Datuk N. Mohandas reached the summit on May 23, 1997, Malaysians reaped the benefits from their feat.

Their “Malaysia Boleh” message rang loud and clear. And it got Malaysians believing in themselves.

“We’ve seen many Malaysians now going to new frontiers and different parts of the world creating history for the country.

‘“We’ve sailed solo around the world, explored the North and South Pole, swam the channels,” says Magendran with pride, happy he was one of the pioneers to add an “Omph’’ to the “Malaysia Boleh” spirit.

Even after 20 years Magendran, whose passion is extreme and professional competitive sports, still remembers the monologue in his head as he climbed, the wind howling around him and that awesome burst of joy when he reached the summit.

Cherished keepsakes: Magendran flipping through the pages of a book on the expedition to Mount Everest in 1997.
Cherished keepsakes: Magendran flipping through the pages of a book on the expedition to Mount Everest in 1997.

“That feeling of achievement and of being able to finally realise a Malaysian dream – after so many years of gruelling training and overcoming so many odds – was more beautiful than the 360° view of a lifetime that I was enjoying,’’ he shares.

He didn’t think he would make it to the summit at one point as a few weeks earlier, when Magendran was climbing, a snow ridge collapsed and he fell into a crevasse. The ropes covering the crevasse broke his fall but his left knee slammed hard into the ice. Luckily, there was no fracture but his knee had become swollen. He had to put a hot water pack on it, apply ointment and have it massaged and bandaged to get the swelling down.

When Magendran made the ascend to the summit, his knee was still hurting, but he just put on a knee guard and bandage, and carried on.

There were 10 climbers (including the reserve climbers) in the Malaysian team. On May 23, four climbers set out from Camp 4 for the summit.

But two had to turn back – Muhammad Fauzan Hassan had diarrhoea while Gary Chong also fell ill – leaving Magendran and Mohandas to make the final charge.

Magendran, who is a teacher, says he had always told his students to “dream big and persevere” so he could not turn back despite the pain.

“My students knew I had been training to climb Everest and I was always encouraging them to persevere. So I couldn’t go back and face my kids if I did not reach the summit. I wanted to be a good example for them,” he says.

Before Everest, Magendran had climbed Mount Kinabalu twice. Since his return, he has climbed Mount Kinabalu every year, he says.

“This is not about me. It’s my personal social obligation to give something back to the youths of Malaysia. I take students and youths up with me.

“Some are strangers who request to join and if I have the space I’ll take them. And we only meet at the airport.

“For them it is something very new. It is still a tough mountain to climb. For them it is their ‘Everest’.

“And for me, it doesn’t matter how many times I climb Mount Kinabalu. I still love the view.

“The terrain, vegetation, flora and fauna are different. You can’t see that anywhere else in Malaysia,” he says, adding that he always tries to add in a conversational element when he takes students and youths on these trips.

Magendran, who was seconded to the National Sports Council for 11 years and is now a senior assistant in a school, says while Malaysia has this dream to be a fully developed nation “things have to move simultaneously in the right direction”.

“My concern is that certain things are being blown out proportion. For one, there was no social media before.”

These days hiking and trekking has become a lifestyle and youths like to post and show off on Facebook that they are trekkers.

“It is a good thing that people are getting into these kind of activities but I can also see the negative side to it.

“Sometimes they get excited and organise big groups when going into the jungle. When a big group goes in they need a bigger camp site and may need to cut down trees.

“They leave too much garbage in the jungle and when they set fires they disrupt the natural temperature in the jungle.

“There is no awareness in keeping our jungles clean. You have to take out what you take in. There needs to be awareness and a balance.’’

For their Everest achievement, Magendran and Mohandas were conferred the title of “Datuk”, but only in 2010 by the Penang state government and in 2011 by the King.

Magendran says he did not mind that it took a long time for him to be awarded the title.

“When we climbed Everest it was because we wanted to climb the mountain in the name of the country. “Nobody promised us anything.

“We were happy that we did it. Of course with the success there came a bit of fame. But then we went back to reality and our daily lives.’’

To date, over 20 Malaysians have conquered Everest, and their triumph is splashed online for all to see.

“But our success will always be there. That’s probably the beauty of being the first. Whenever you speak about Everest in Malaysia you cannot omit our names,’’ says Magendran.

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