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Hargur Jaggi is a founding Partner at Delhi-based law firm Luthra & Jaggi Advocates & Consultants. He also happens to be a mountaineering aficionado. And despite a congenital birth defect, he has proved doubters wrong by successfully completing a number of climbing expeditions.
In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, Hargur Jaggi talks about his inspiring journey, his endeavour to train differently abled persons in mountain climbing, and more.
Hailing from Punjab, Hargur Jaggi moved to Delhi in order to write the Civil Services Exam. In fact, the only reason he studied law at Campus Law Centre was to have law as a main subject in the exams. However, an incident at the UPSC office prompted a change of heart.
“I was asked very tough questions which really shook me deep inside and made me think about how everyone perceives Differently Abled Persons. It occurred to me that I would only be able to get placement in minor States even if I crack the exams under the Physical-Handicap quota This was prior to the landmark judgment of the Delhi High Court, wherein the Government had been directed to treat the candidates under PH quota at parity with other candidates.
It was at that very moment when it occurred to me, ‘I need not be here, I have a law degree and this is it. I will become a lawyer and will give back to society, to the best of my ability.’ Till date, I don’t regret this decision.”
He went on to work for Advocate-on-Record Pradeep Bakshi, before pursuing an LL.M. from Georgetown University. After a small stint at Tuli & Co., he joined the litigation team at Fox Mandal in 2006.
And it was here he would meet his future co-partner, Hardik Luthra.
“Hardik Luthra and I worked on various matters as a team and I really enjoyed working with him. During our visit to Panipat to argue an appeal in 2007, we just started to talk and reflected on what a great year it had been in terms of our professional growth. We realized that as the Firm really believed in us there has to be something special about us. That’s when we decided that the time had come to take the plunge and bid adieu to our professional life at a big firm.”
Evidently, it took a great deal of self-belief to venture out on their own. As a result, Luthra & Jaggi was formed.
And it is this very self-belief that is reflected in his other passion – mountaineering. He reveals that the love for the mountains has been in him since his upbringing in a boarding school.
But it was not until he met legendary mountaineer, Brig. DK Khullar, on a work-related matter that the spark was truly ignited.
“I happened to ask him, ‘Sir, what does it feel like to be on the top of the world?’ Brig. Khullar, a visionary, replied with a brief pause, ‘Son, why don’t you get up there and see for yourself? If a blind man can climb, so can you.’”
Later, Hargur Jaggi would approach several mountaineering institutes for training. Unfortunately, they would turn him down on account of his fused left elbow and underdeveloped shoulder.
“In October 2011, I was shown the door by pioneering mountaineering institutes of our country, Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, West Bengal.
I was told on my face that they wouldn’t induct physically challenged persons like me. I pleaded that I will not shy away from hard work and put in all the effort. They mocked at me that I can’t even use a jumaar (climbing aide-device). Being a lawyer and a man of self-resolution and respect I retorted, ‘A tiny toddler goes to a school to learn and the teachers don’t turn him simply for the reason he knows nothing. The student is there to learn and so am I’.”
And this defiance has held him in good stead; he has successfully undertaken various expeditions across the world, despite repeatedly being told that he couldn’t.
“In August 2013, I successfully climbed an Unnamed Peak (6230m) in the Bara Shigri Glacier, Himachal Pradesh. During the training camp, I came across two remarkable persons – Cosmin Andron and Mihnea – who really supported me and taught me the basics of using ice axes, crampons, tippy-toeing and how to avoid the dangers of crevasses.
We became good friends and in 2014, and Cosmin shared a story about his close friend Claudiu, who at one point of time was a top climber in Romania and couldn’t climb at all because of rheumatoid arthritis. After surgeries, numerous physiotherapy sessions, he relearned everything and now climbs to a very limited level, but trains kids with special needs in Romania.
We stitched a 10 day trip to Morocco. Under the able leadership of Cosmin and Mihnea, we attempted a multi-pitch rock face (rock wall) named Barraka. We had a great climbing experience; we climbed and slept on a porta-ledge, suspended hundreds feet in the air and just hanging by the sling.”
And it was Claudiu who inspired Hargur Jaggi to begin training differently abled persons to climb.
“Being a differently abled person, I know what it feels like to be on the other side. Claudiu definitely deserves the due credit for inspiring me. I loved his commitment, he definitely is the game changer, leading by example and imparting all his knowledge and giving his time to kids with special needs and helping them restore that ounce of self-belief.”
Since then, he has been involved in training visually impaired boys in Delhi. It is evident that he is in awe of the boys’ sheer determination, and is committed to helping them overcome the impossible.
“On one my regular training sessions over the weekend at the sport-climbing wall at Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), Delhi, I encountered these amazing kids, who were being trained by Sunil Rawat. We joined hands and started to train these visually impaired boys. I am affectionately known as Jaggi Paji at IMF.
We started with basic training and then brought them to the tougher sections. A few of them are already competing at state and national level sporting competition. The boys are phenomenally strong and have rock solid will power and determination.
As the boys are visually impaired, we use audio/voice calls. But trust me, these boys have transformed their biggest challenge, the lack of vision, as their biggest strength. The just don’t panic or give up. You will understand it much better when you see a vision enabled person climbing a wall, on getting to a tough section or the fearful part, they will just panic and snap, as in fall. But these boys are resilient. They just don’t give up.
The smiles on my boys’ faces are the most contagious. I dream to have a team of Para-Climbers.”
So how does he manage to balance work and life, being a Partner of a law firm?
“I have an obsession for detail and thus planning forms a key element in my daily life. But being a mountaineer also helps me take sudden changes in my stride. Being a lawyer, there is predictability that the cases would be listed on a certain date, thus blocking dates does help. I do inform Hardik much well in advance, something like 3-6 months that I would be traveling and I would be in the remotest possible location on the planet. I don’t divulge the details about the project until last minute, as he always laid emphasis on my personal safety and life.
I like to set goals for me and then slowly work towards achieving those goals. My upcoming projects are to climb with some young accomplished climbers in India, to attempt a mountaineering expedition with DAPs, to represent India in the international arena of para-climbing competition and to participate and cross the finish line of the treacherous, one of the toughest races on our planet, La Ultra, which happens in unforgiving Ladakh region. I know my plate is too full but I cannot help it, I surely know that one life is all we have in common.”
Though Hargur Jaggi would love to take up climbing full-time, he acknowledges the fact that being a lawyer has definitely helped him on his journey.
“On discovering my first love for the mountains, I would love to be a mountain guide. But if you connect the dots, [it is] quite apparent that I have got this far only being a lawyer. Mountaineering is quite an expensive sport and I think being a lawyer surely does help.”