Kaviya Dileep goes the whole hog. The 19-year-old Chennai girl recently scaled Mount Ladakhi, which was closed off for 17 years after two civilians died while trying to climb the mountain in 2003.
She was part of an all-girls group of about 20 NCC cadets who were selected from 400 applicants. The girls were accompanied by a team of superiors and staff, making it a contingent of about 50 people. These chosen ones embarked on a grueling two-month journey that began in May, 2017 and culminated in them standing atop the 18,000 feet high peak on July 2, 2017.
“It was one of the most scary, yet fulfilling experiences of my life,” said Kaviya. “The conditions we faced were extremely challenging and I found that I had to keep pushing my boundaries. I’ve become a much stronger person, both physically and mentally.”
It wasn’t just the biting cold and the vigorous physical activity that she had to worry about. She battled sleepless nights where the looming fear was that she would be swept away by an avalanche.
“Every night, I would be worried that it (avalanche) would fall on me,” she joked. “It seems funny now but it was terrifying then. The days I fell sick were the worst. It was horrible! I would miss home so much but I’d remember why I started and just kept myself going.”
As a single child, Kaviya means the world to her parents. When she fell sick, her parents went through hell too. As the signal was sketchy in the mountains, they barely could speak with her. For someone who made about 15 calls to her parents when she was not in the city, Kaviya was able to make about one or two calls in a couple of days if she was lucky.
“I had my heart in my mouth all through those two months,” said her mother, Mary Ann. “Once I was worried sick when she called crying because she had a terrible stomach and while we were speaking, the line got cut and we weren’t able to get through to her for days after that. It was extremely hard for me to cope but thankfully she recovered soon.”
Scaling Mount Ladakhi is no easy feat. In fact, a few people from the CRPF had warned the group against going ahead with their plan as the mountain was dangerous terrain. They said the girls would not be able to do it as it was very tough. This irked Kaviya who firmly believes that there is nothing a man can do that a woman cannot. She proudly boasted that all the girls in the group scaled the peak.
“Girls are no less than boys,” she said without flinching. “They just have to be trained and given the same opportunities. My father has always believed in my abilities and from a very early age made me get into sports as he himself was a football player and a cross country runner. I started training at the age of six and now compete at the national level.”
It is easy to get mislead by Kaviya’s quiet and calm exterior. But on probing, one finds she has a temper, that makes an occasional appearance when she feels something wrong is happening or when her sleep is disturbed, she joked.
“I need my sleep and I need my peace and quiet,” she said. “Even when I was at camp, the others would not sleep till the wee hours of the morning and would talk so loudly, it was impossible to sleep. So one day I threw a fit and it all sorted out.”
Regarded as among the most diligent and disciplined people on camp, Kaviya is a stickler for rules. However, her father, PP Dileep feels this discipline is restricted to when she is on camp.
“When she is at these camps she is the most disciplined girl you will find,” her father, Dileep said. “All her seniors praise her and call her the best cadet. But when she is at home, she is a different person. She dumps stuff wherever she wants and is so lazy!”
But lazy isn’t a word most would associate with Kaviya. She boasts of a national record in the under-14 category for 400 metres at 1:02 minutes. But it isn’t just running but a whole host of other extra-curricular activities that Kaviya engages in. She is a blue belt in Karate, a Rajya Puraskar holder for Scouts & Guides and has even tried her hand at microlight flying. Later, she joined the NCC and there has been no looking back. As someone who goes out of her way to help people, Kaviya devotes a lot of her time towards working for social causes too.
In the midst of all this, Kaviya doesn’t let her education take a backseat. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from Guru Nanak College. She relied heavily on her friends for notes as she was barely in class and was fortunate to have a faculty that was extremely supportive and always helped her get up to speed with what was happening in class.
“I attended 13 NCC camps during my second year of college and had attended college only for 8 days,” she said. “Now that I am in my third year, I am attending college regularly and am only focusing on my studies as my exams are coming up. Once that is done, I will plan which mountain to scale next.”
With so much going on, Kaviya doesn’t get much time for recreation. But when she does, she enjoys listening to music or just sitting on the kitchen counter chatting with her mother while she whips up a delicious meal, any of her mother’s fish delicacies being her favourite dishes.
For Kaviya, scaling Mount Ladakhi, is just another stepping stone towards her larger ambition – of joining the army. It is something she has dreamt and groomed herself for. She says she was drawn to the defence forces because of the life of ‘adventure and thrill,’ that she feels cannot be matched in any other profession. A fighter, through and through, it is no wonder that she chose a profession that demands nothing less.