The incredible story of Poorna Malavath, the girl who climbed Mt Everest at 13
Poorna Malavath, now 16 years old, has known fear only twice in her mountain climbing career. The first was during her maiden attempt at climbing, when she scaled the steep face of Telangana’s Bhongir rock; the second, when she saw the graves of those who had attempted to scale Mt Everest,
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Poorna Malavath, now 16 years old, has known fear only twice in her mountain climbing career. The first was during her maiden attempt at climbing, when she scaled the steep face of Telangana’s Bhongir rock; the second, when she saw the graves of those who had attempted to scale Mt Everest, on her journey to its icy peak. Nevertheless she persisted, becoming the youngest girl to climb Everest at 13 years and 11 months planting the Indian tricolour at over 29,000 feet on May 25, 2014. At GQ Men of the Year Awards in Mumbai, Poorna accompanied Rahul Bose who made a film on her incredible journey. When we met her, Poorna was a picture of calm. She didn’t seem fazed by the flashing lightbulbs and the glamour that surrounded her.
“I climbed Everest because I wanted to prove girls could do anything,” she told us later. It has been over three years since then and in these years Poorna has scaled Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has been the subject of a major motion picture. What makes Poorna’s journey to (literally) the top of the world even more special is the fact that she had battle just to get to the starting line of the race.
Before she transferred to Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS), the teacher of her old school would not allow girls into the class and several of her peers, who did manage to get an education, were pulled out of school and married off upon hitting puberty. As an Adivasi girl born to parents who worked as farmhands in Pakala, Nizamabad, a village that even Google knows only so much about, Poorna neither had access to the kind of resources needed for a mountaineering expedition nor the dream to be a part of one at the time.
Were it not for the teachers at her new school spotting her athletic prowess (built up by years of volleyball and kabaddi) and her mentor Dr RS Praveen Kumar, the retired IPS officer who has made it his mission to give TSWREIS schools a much-needed makeover, Poorna’s potential might have gone unrealised. It was only when Dr Kumar encouraged her to climb the Bhongir rock, a moment that marks a turning point in both the biopic and Poorna’s life, that she found her calling. The rest is history. And from the looks of it Poorna does not intend to stop making it.
Like most mountaineers, Poorna hopes to scale the seven highest summits of the seven continents. “I have done three so far (Everest, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro)” she says. Poorna accompanied Rahul Bose who plays Dr Praveen Kumar in the movie and who won the GQ Men of the Year Award for Agent of Social Change. In his acceptance speech Bose said, “We didn’t make Poorna to be agents of social change. We made Poorna to make a great film. Any film that details the true story of a 13-year-old tribal girl — undereducated, undernourished — with absolutely no history of climbing mountains (and) how she surpassed misogyny, patriarchy, orthodoxy to get to where she does, is for us a great story to tell.”
As for Poorna herself, she just wishes to become an IPS officer in order to give back to the community. But mountaineering is something she will never give up on. Even at just 16, Poorna is not naive enough not to know that her journey will be fraught with strife. But for now, she has made it and she remains motivated as ever, “We have commandments in our school, like prayers, so I remembered those ten commandments when I was scared during my journey.” Poorna flashes her bright smile once again, “The tenth commandment is ‘I shall never give up’ and that is my favourite.”