Srinagar: No story is worth a life and no piece of reportage worth an injury. Young Kashmiri documentary maker Amir Rafiq Peerzada violated this journalistic dictum with awesome courage and went on to win a couple of awards too.
Peerzada hails from Wangam village in Bandipora and works as a producer with NDTV. He was recently awarded RedInk Award for Excellence in Indian journalism for his documentary, Operation Everest-Summiteers to Saviours.
After the RedInk Award, he won the Best Documentary Award at the prestigious Dada Sahib Phalke Film Festival 2016 held on 30 April.
How did this film come about? Amir recounted the day when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal, on 25 April last year.
Amir had arrived at the Everest base camp two days before the quake to film the start of the climbing season.
“25th of April is my second birthday. I was born again that day,” Amir, born 4 April 1999, told Kashmir Reader.
“We were descending from the Khumbu glacier when the mountain shook. I had gone there alone, leaving the camera crew at the base camp. Before leaving them I learned how to operate the camera. Till then I did not know how to work it,” Amir said.
“I had waited eight months for this story so nothing was going to stop me. The Khumbu ridge is the most avalanche prone area,” Amir said.
When the quake struck, Amir believed it was normal, as the “glacier is said to move 4 feet every day”.
“Sherpas started shouting and asked us to climb down fast. When everyone was running for their lives I pushed the record button while clenching tightly on the rope with other hand,” Amir said.
“I could only hear abuses by of my teammates. The team leader asked me to stop shooting but I didn’t,” he said.
The worst was yet to come. The earthquake triggered an avalanche. It was approaching so fast that Amir started remembering the conversation with his mother a few days earlier and “the best moments of my life”.
When an avalanche strikes, climbers are advised to cover their noses, lest the snow smothers them.
“We covered our faces and crouched. The avalanche struck us like a bolt. I thought I am going to die,” he said.
Seventy-percent of their bodies were buried under snow, Amir said. They shook off the snow and reached the base camp, only to be stunned by the sight of the bodies of 20 mountaineers.
Among the dead were Dan Fredinburg, a Google engineer based in California and 16 sherpas. Rescue arrived after two days. Aftershocks and smaller avalanches kept them in a permanent state of fright.
“I have realised passion helps. When I was face to face with death, I started shooting as if involuntarily,” he said.