“There aren’t enough stories told about women who inspire,” I said to my friend Tejbir while cycling down the expressway one morning. “Especially women who lead ordinary lives while doing extraordinary things. They are the “real” role models in a world that thrives on making Gods out of its celebrities, so it’s really important that their stories are told.”
That’s when Tejbir told me about Seema Pai. A mountaineer, rock climber, hiker, runner and cyclist, Seema is also an agriculturist, entrepreneur and businesswoman who wears all her hats with equal aplomb and passion.
Over several weeks of many phone calls, I came to know Seema better. She loves her filter coffee as much as she does her wine, enjoys cooking (she makes a mean pickle) and having her friends over to eat. An avid bird watcher, she’s a crazy dog lover and can teach a thing or two about caregiving. Currently fostering four stray kittens at home, she happily shares her small patch of land on the fringes of a forest outside Ramnagar (near Bengaluru) with the sloth bears and leopards living in the vicinity. What is unique about her farm is (apart from the organic agricultural practices) there are no fences to keep the animals out. “They were here first…the forest and the animals,” she says, and wants them to have a free run of her land as also the first rights on the Alphonso mangoes, millets, tur daal, tamarind, etc. growing on the farm (sloth bears love mangoes and tamarind). Respectful co-existence and maintaining a balance with the ecosystem are important aspects for Seema in everything she does.
A self-made woman, Seema has been working since the age of 16 to support herself. It’s no mean feat that at the age of 20, she floated a public limited company; briefly dabbled with being an event manager; became the sole importer of surgical implant material; tried her hand at the dry cleaning business; and became a ‘Wildcraft’ franchisee. Possessing an innate business sense, the hits have come with their share of misses, and she’s taken them all on as a challenge to reinvent herself. The hallmark of Seema’s life has been her ability to go back to the starting line and start afresh, driven by her resolute will to make it on her own while staying true to her mantra, “Free your mind, your ass follows”.
Climbing for her was love at first sight when she was introduced to it in her 20s. It proved to be both therapeutic and a lesson as it instilled a conscious sense of calm in her and taught her the importance of being in the moment while tackling the challenges of climbing, and of life. The most important thing in climbing for Seema is the aesthetics of things – the “How” of things. How something is done? How do you challenge yourself? How have you changed by what you have learnt? Of the firm belief that learning happens when you get out of your comfort zone, Seema says there is no place for ego on the mountains as humility and resilience are crucial ingredients when you are up close with the elements.
Seema comes across as a warm, open and a very grounded person whose home is always open for friends. Quick to reach out to anyone who might need her help, she chooses to live a private life, where the likes of Facebook and followers on Instagram hold little charm. At an age when most women are looking at facing menopause and worrying about weight gain and laugh lines, Seema’s bucket list is topped up with the Seven Summits challenge (the highest peak on every continent). For her 50th birthday, Seema chose to attempt Mt Denali over Mt Everest. Being the coldest mountain on the planet, climbing Mt Denali is the hardest of the Seven Summits due to the Arctic conditions, extreme weather and glacier mountaineering. Although the height gain from the base to the summit is the the same as Everest, being a completely self supported climb makes it all the more challenging.
In 2019, Seema reached the summit of Mt Denali, making it the fourth summit out of the seven. The next in line are Mt Everest, Mt Vinson Massif, and Mt Puncak Jaya. Although getting sponsorship is a tough challenge, it’s important as climbing is quite a costly affair. Her website, “Why Not At 50” is the groundwork in preparation for the summits and a testimony to her belief that it’s never too late to be what you might have been. As she takes on the peaks and troughs, Seema’s competition is only with herself.
- 2007: Stok Kangri (20,082 ft), Ladakh; Pindari Glacier trek
- 2008: Chamser Kangri (21,725 ft) Ladakh; Everest Base Camp trek
- 2009: Island Peak (20,305 ft), Nepal
- 2010: Mera Peak (21,247 ft), Nepal
- 2011: Chamser Kangri (21,725 ft), Ladakh
- 2013: Mt Kinabalu (13,435 ft) Malaysia; Annapurna Base Camp trek, Nepal
- 2014: Cho Oyu and Manaslu Base Camp; Climb in the Austrian Alps
- 2015: Mt Elbrus (18,510 ft), Russia
- 2016: Kanchenjunga Base Camp trek; Dhaulagiri Circuit trek
- 2017: Mt Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft), Tanzania; Mt Shasta (14,179 ft), USA; Mt Patalsu (13,845, ft), Manali
- 2018: Mt Aconcagua (22,837 ft), Argentina
- 2019: Mt Denali (20,310 ft), Alaska
Picture Credit : Seema Pai