Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Concept of Hereafter | Al Risala, September 1988

A veteran of World War I, Maurice Wilson had always cherished a dream of standing on “the roof of the world”– the top of Mount Everest (at 29,028 feet, the highest peak in the world). His keenness to realize this ambition was so great that he walked out of a successful family business, spent all his money on a second-hand aeroplane and flew six thousand miles from England to India, finally touching down at Purnea on the borders of Nepal. Having been refused permission to proceed beyond this point in his aircraft, he sold it, and approached towards the Everest by way of Darjeeling and Tibet.

On the last leg of the journey, he carried only a small tent with him, some rice, an automatic camera and a few other small items. He planned to stand on the summit on his 36th birthday, April 21, 1934, but, when he was just a few days away from making that birthday the most memorable one ever, he was overtaken by a violent Himalayan storm and was forced to descend to his previous base. One year later, the famous Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, found Wilson’s body and next to it, his diary in which he had written, “only 13,000 feet more to go. I have the distinct feeling that I’ll reach the summit on April 21.” He had hoped that his automatic camera would record his moment of triumph for posterity. But that moment never came. And no one was ever able to find out the actual cause of his death.

This was the first serious attempt to conquer Mount Everest, and it ended in failure. The saga of Maurice Wilson, divested of its elements of high drama, is, if we could but realize it, the saga of many of the world’s less illustrious, less daring millions. There are few of us who do not, in a lower key, strain after some cherished dream, some gilded ambition, full of thoughts of the happiness that awaits us at some imagined point in the future. But death can come at any moment and may forestall the ripening of well-laid plans. This is an eventuality, which, in the struggle to achieve an ambition, many of us completely lose sight of. Yet it is an ever-present reality, for which all of us must prepare ourselves, sooner or later. We must never lose our awareness of the fact that our ultimate destination lies not in the realization of dream, but in the abode which we finally take up in the afterlife. We will be able to come to terms with the anti-climactic nature of human existence, if we keep our minds firmly fixed on the notion that the greatest climax lies beyond the grave.