Hiking Makes You A Team Person

Updated: Jan 26 2003, 05:30am hrs
A London School of Economics graduate, trained at prestigious institutions like the University of Michigan, International Finance Cor-poration and World Bank, his credentials are astounding. Yet Subrata Mukherji, executive director, ICICI Bank, learnt all the lessons of life and problem solving from his favourite twin passions, hiking and trekking. A lean and fit man at 49 years of age, Mr Mukherji is slightly discomfited when asked to talk about personal interests. I am more comfortable talking about projects, infrastructure, NPAs and the like, he says with a smile.

A Mumbaiite to the core, Mr Mukherji was born and brought up in the big metropolis. Is Kolkata alien to him You will get me into trouble with this question, he says laughing. I can speak the language fluently. OK. Where do his loyalties lie... with Mohun Bagan or East Bengal He laughs. Neither. I dont like football. Well, what about sweets Oh, I dont like them either. And he is a vegetarian. So he is far removed from the quintessential Bengali! In a way. But I do enjoy Rabindra Sangeet, he interjects. I have stayed in Kolkata for a short duration for work, but I am a Mumbaiite who really loves this city!

Was banking a natural choice for an LSE product In a way. After schooling at St Xaviers and graduating from St Xaviers College in Mumbai, I did my MBA from Bajaj Institute. Then I went to the LSE. One has been involved with economics and so a career in that field was a natural corollary. Does his job rev him up It does. If it didnt, I would not be able to sit here day after day.

Mr Mukherjis days are choc-a-bloc with work, but one thing that he does unfailingly is run every morning. I must run four kilometres a day. If I am not able to do that, then I use the treadmill at home. Is he a fitness freak Yes. He cannot remember how he got involved with hiking, he says. I think a couple of my friends at ICICI were involved in it and thats how I got pulled into it. He says the most exciting trip that he had was during Independence Day celebrations last year. I flew from Delhi to Leh and then went to Ladakh and covered 18,380 feet without acclimatising myself. I was back at work after four days. That was exhilarating.

His face is alight as he talks about his passion for hiking and mountaineering. His voice exudes enthusiastic inflections and Mr Mukherji shows snapshots of the peaks that have held him enthralled and still call out to him in the concrete jungle that surrounds the ICICI building at the Bandra-Kurla complex in Mumbai.

Another trip that was memorable, says Mr Mukherji, was going to the Mount Everest base camp at 19,000 feet. That was a fairly long climb. It starts from Nepal and one enjoys the scenery. But as one approaches the base camp, the area is barren. Did he make an attempt to climb the Everest One realises ones physical limitations. I am not fit enough to climb the Everest, he says matter-of-factly.

What is it about the hills that beckon him at least once in six months I dont know. Maybe it is the physical exertion. Sitting in ones office and travelling to and from work, one feels complacent about ones fitness levels. If I can do all this without any stress to my body, then I must be healthy, is the general perception. But when one pits oneself against a hill or a mountain, the physical exertion reveals it all. Also, there is the deep satisfaction of knowing that one can do it. Again and again.

Mr Mukherji believes that if one wants to be in touch with oneself, hiking could provide the answer. Many may say that meditation does that, too, and it could be true. Each to his own. But for me, hiking and mountaineering open myself to me. I have the time and the calmness to ponder and reflect about the goings-on within me, which a busy schedule in Mumbai does not afford.

In those remote areas, one shares space with a shepherd and partakes of the same food that he eats. One needs to have that kind of a touch with reality. When one climbs a peak and looks around at the sheer beauty of the surroundings and the vastness of nature, one realises one is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And that is a humble experience. If one ever has any feelings of importance about oneself, it is decimated in the lap of nature.

Another encouraging thing about hiking, says Mr Mukherji, is that it makes one a team person. You see, you cannot do it alone. One needs a team that aids, encourages and infuses enthusiasm in one another as one trudges uphill. One could get flagged down by the hardships, but the others see to it that that does not happen.

Has he been able to translate the lessons that his passion teaches him to his job Of course. My job is that of a team leader. But one does it with others in cooperation. There is no ordering about here. We are all working towards one aim. Even a problem does not remain a problem any more. It is like when one is hiking, a boulder or any hurdle in ones path does not deter one, one finds ways to go about or around it and climb higher. And the same goes for a job, too.

Is Mr Mukherjis family also enthused about mountaineering My 14-year-old son, Aditya, who is studying at Doon School, is. We have gone hiking together. My 19-year-old daughter, Aruna, is a reluctant hiker. But I coax her into it, he says laughing.

Would he like to go hiking for longer periods The answer surprisingly is no. One needs to maintain a balance in life, he reasons. Everything has its priority. One has to go hiking and mountaineering to be in touch with oneself, but life and its responsibilities must be attended to diligently.

I believe life is all that we have to do whatever it is that we want to. If one can do it with a healthy balance between ones passion and responsibilities, then one has succeeded in doing a fair job and isnt that what life is about He could not have enunciated that better.