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Fifth column

May 4, 2019

In search of the Yeti

Opinion

May 4, 2019

A day before the month of April folded, the Indian Army made a startling claim of having found the footprints of the fabled snowman – Yeti – near the Makalu Base Camp, close to the eastern Himalayan region bordering Nepal and China. The area is near the Makalu-Barun National Park, Nepal’s eighth national park established in 1992 and is internationally protected under an agreement between China and Nepal.

The Makalu base camp is at an altitude of 5000 meters “with abundant wildlife including the endangered red panda and musk deer as well as the ghoral, Himalayan Tahr and leopard”. While the folklore of the region is thronged with ghostly sketches of an enormous ape-like creature lurking about the snow-bedecked peaks, it is for the first time that some ‘documentary’ evidence has been produced.

The Indian Army official Twitter account produced three pictures of a “Yeti footprint” claiming it was for the first time that “an #IndianArmy Mountaineering Expedition Team has sited (sic) Mysterious Footprints of mythical beast ‘Yeti’”. While giving the measurement of the imprints as 32 inches by 15 inches, the tweet added that the “elusive snowman has only been sighted at Makalu-Barun National Park in the past”, referring to a similar but dubious claim of spotting on the western side of Mount Everest that was advanced by Eric Shipton, a British explorer, in 1951. According to a latest CBS story, the forensic results of previous samples of the creature have proved to be from prehistoric bears and that “most scientists have written the creature off as a centuries-old myth originating in Tibet”.

So far, the only ‘credible’ evidence to support the existence of the snowman has come from Kyrgyzstan. On May 19, 2016, the official Kyrgyz Express Post issued two stamps depicting the Yeti – to celebrate his legend which, according to an official statement, was “well-known around the world”. In the first stamp, the Yeti, all dressed in white fluffy fur and a red checkered muffler around his neck, is enjoying at the Karakol ski resort. The second one depicts the Yeti with a white towel hemmed with red stripes vacationing by the Issyk-Kul Lake in the northern Tian Shan Mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz acknowledgment and depiction of the Yeti, according to official sources, was “intended to attract the attention of as many people from the Kyrgyz Republic and from other countries … to compliment the great touristic potential of our country”. In contrast, the rationale behind the latest release of the ‘Yeti footprint’ pictures was to “excite a bit of a scientific temper”, as one Indian military official told AFP. However, he spoke on condition of anonymity.

The serious claim was marred by spelling mistakes, typographical errors and much more. The tweet, issued from the Indian Army’s Directorate General of Public Information misspelled ‘sighted’ with ‘sited’, capitalised ‘Mysterious Footprints’ that were supported with photographic evidence and yet called the Yeti a ‘mythical beast’. The statement while contradicting his presence produced documentary evidence to suggest its existence. If the Yeti was ‘mythical’, as declared, it was unlikely to leave anything behind let alone a trail of footprints. Besides, upon close observation, the photographs seem to show that the so-called beast might be one-legged. Well-known Kashmiri-civil-servant-turned-politician Shah Faesal mocked the claim by linking it to the equally fabled Balakot air strike that, regardless of the rich Indian claims of killing hundreds of mythical terrorists, was confirmed to have caused only one killing of a middle-aged black crow. “Foot-print suggests that this Yeti is one-legged. Looks like he lost his other leg in Balakot air strike”, wrote Faesal.

There were many more who poured scorn on the claim but Tarun Vijay, a BJP affiliated intellectual, journalist and former parliamentarian showed uncanny optimism and delight at the claim. “Congratulations, we are always proud of you. Salutes to the #IndianArmy Mountaineering Expedition Team”, he wrote. However, in line with the BJP’s old tradition to reinvent beasts as humans, Vijay reminded the army that they were Indian and, therefore, they should show respect towards the Yeti and refrain from designating him as a beast. “But please, you are Indian, don’t call [the] Yeti as beast. Show respect for them. If you say he is a ‘snowman’”. It is obvious that Vijay’s praiseworthy tweet would also benefit from quite some help from a dedicated English teacher.

A day after the Yeti declaration, on Tuesday, on my way to the airport, I was stuck in a flash traffic jam near Pampore, the town synonymous with producing famous Kashmiri saffron. Although it was not the officially designated day that bars civilian traffic on the roads, a ban effected in response to the Pulwama attack that killed more than 40 military personnel, there was a massive movement of paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force vehicles, grinding us to an unwelcome halt. The on-duty personnel suggested we take the old road as they claimed the jam was quite large and unwieldy. However, they feigned ignorance about the reason for the sudden gridlock.

I looked towards a fellow driver for an explanation. Brandishing a cheeky grin, he suggested there was a lookout notice for the Yeti as he was rumoured to have moved into Kashmir. Another driver waded in with a counsel to thank God for the Yeti was not spotted along the LoC. “Otherwise, he would have been designated as a terrorist and even possibly trigger threats of war amid demands that Pakistan should arrest and hand him over to India”. Thanks to the Yeti, our torturous trail produced some original entertainment to scaffold our sanity.

Post-script: The hoopla, it seems, might come to end without a whimper as the Nepalese Army has discredited the claims. Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, the Nepalese Army spokesperson, claimed the so-called Yeti footprints belonged to a wild bear “that frequently appears in that area”. Thankfully, Nepal is no Pakistan. Therefore, rest assured, there will be no ‘Yeti wars’ – on the ground or in the studios of the Indian television channels that are usually programmed to fan nationalistic passions on everything, from the killing of unsuspecting crows by air strikes to arresting spy pigeons who dare to cross the border from Pakistan.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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