In General

Welcome to the TED India Fellows project where a team of 15 bloggers interview TED Fellows to get to know them better.

My first TED Fellow is a good friend and a man of distinction. Satyabrata Dam is the only Indian to have climbed Mt.Everest (twice) and reached North Pole and South Pole..not to mention that he’s climbed the highest peak in every continent in the World.

(Photo :Arun Nair)

The first time I heard about Satya was when I was scouting for great achievers to invite for Cerebrate, a FooCamp like event that brings achievers together. Rajesh Lalwani, a fellow social media practitioner recommenced Satya and I knew why. His profile was not only stupendous but added a completely different variety to the gang. Since the event, we’ve become good friends . He is a great conversationalist and a fun company to have.

And so here goes my set of questions to him as part of the TED Fellows project.

Reaching the two poles and climbing Mt.Everest (what you refer as the 3 poles) are great achievements. One is vertical and other is horizontal. Both gruelingly challenging. I know its unfair to compare but talk to us how one complements the other.

Like you said, one is in the horizontal plane and the other is in the vertical plane so each has its own peculiarities and also similarities. If we compare the two then the following emerges:
(a) Skiing to poles do not involve any high altitude related problems, like rarefied atmosphere, lack of pressure
(b) While in the Poles the constant temperature is less than -30 C (average) on Everest the temperature is not so constant and we only reach such extreme low temperatures above 22000 ft and not lower
(c) Both are equally grueling, life threatening and exhausting
(d) Though some of the clothing, equipment are similar, the stuff used for skiing is vastly different from those used for climbing
(e) The entire logistics and execution of the two are also totally different and can’t be compared at any level
(f) Both happen in extremely harsh and unforgiving weather conditions where it can change rapidly without warning and it is weather that often decides the outcome of the expedition
(g) Being different kind of activities, the food planning is different for each, though there are similarities
(h) The particular body muscle groups required for the two are different, therefore it also needs different kind of specialized training and pre expedition preparations
(i) The mental focus and attitude needed is also different for the two to a large extent
there are many more ways (the major ones are listed above) of comparing the two. But to summarize the above, I can say that climbing Everest was the most difficult in all possible ways (physically exhausting, fatal, etc), then North Pole and then South Pole in the order of difficulty

What has been your most challenging climb so far?
If by climb you mean reaching the summit of a peak, then I guess, I would put three climbs on the top side by side: Cerro Tore in South Patagonias, Argentina and Grandes Jorasses North Face in Chamonix France and the winter ascent of Khan Tengri North Face in Kazakhstan, closely followed by my attempt on Eigar North face, Switzerland and climb of Mt Thor in Arctic Canada.

Extreme mountaineering is a dangerous sport. You yourself said 70% of your friends in the climbing world are dead. What is it that makes you want to go back?

By the way, two more of my friends died just two days ago, I got the news today. Well, for me the mountains are my life, my passion and my addiction. I know sooner or later they will kill me but I cannot escape their fatal charm. I do it because only when I face death eye to eye do I feel really alive. When I hold my own life in my own hands and my skills and there is nothing else who is responsible or attributable to my situation only then I start feeling really in my elements. It’s a strange addiction

Tell us about your biggest achievements in life that you look back with pride.
I would sight three biggest achievements: (a) Learning to climb mountains when I was 10 (b) Carrying the naval flag on top of Everest in 2004 with a team of novices and returning without any casualties or major mishaps (c) Adopting a child and seeing her grow and ensuring that she got a good family to live in

What has been your biggest mistake and what lessons did you learn from it?
I must have made million mistakes, but to sight one, or a few, whenever someone died in my expeditions due to the consequences of my decisions I have found that mistake as unforgiving. Each of their deaths lie very heavily on my conscience and will do so I guess till I live. But what I learnt out of them was that though we can shape our fate we cannot change our destiny and that to achieve anything in life, one must first begin with acceptance of certain fundamental facts

After 22 years at the Navy, you’ve decided to pursue management studies at IIMA. Explain.
Well, academically I have no achievements so to speak (this has been a sore point with me all my life, since I admire people with academic excellence) and since I was on the verge of leaving the Navy and it offered me this course from IIM, A, I decided to do it so that I have a respectable degree. This is a special scheme for defense officers on the verge of retirement. And since I am still on Navy’s pay this is a good way to do a course. Once out I don’t think I would really have the drive to do a course of this stature. To tell you a secret, though it is extremely difficult to get into IIM A through normal selection process, for us, there is no such thing. And what really clinched the deal was that during these 24 weeks of the course I did not have any major expeditions planned. So I will end up with a decent degree, some amount of new knowledge and a great amount of self-satisfaction.

Name one person you admire most and why?

I have always admired Swami Vivekananda… need I say more. His photo stands next to Lord Shiva on my study table

Talk to us about your other interests that you are passionate about.
I am passionate about traveling and exploring places that are not on the map, all sorts of extreme sports (more life threatening the better) acquiring all sorts of diverse knowledge in an autodidactic fashion, writing, putting a smile on every face, magic, music and dreaming