Antarctica, here I come

Vashi-based travel photographer wins chance to accompany renowned explorer Robert Swan to the South Pole

Arjun Menon, 26, is not a morning person. But for the last few weeks, he was compelled to be up at dawn, peering repeatedly at his phone for that life-changing message. The travel and fine arts photographer, who runs Art Leaves A Mark, a start up, out of an office in Govandi, finally received an email at 6 am on October 28.

Arjun Menon works as a travel photographer. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Arjun Menon works as a travel photographer. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

It was from the office of Robert Swan, one of the world’s most influential explorers and inspirational speakers. “I jumped out of bed and woke up everyone at home!” laughs Menon, who is one of five Indians in a group of 80 to accompany Swan on an Antarctica expedition.

Arjun Menon on a ropeway that takes locals to and fro from Chichum Village in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Arjun Menon on a ropeway that takes locals to and fro from Chichum Village in Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Titled, Leadership on the Edge, its goal is to nudge youth to take responsibility to build resilient communities, realise now is the time for action in policy development and sustainable business generation, and in a sense, be global climate change ambassadors.

Robert Swan, speaking on environment at St Xavier’s College in 2011. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Robert Swan, speaking on environment at St Xavier’s College in 2011. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Menon leaves on March 13, 2016, flying to the US and then onwards to Argentina. From then on, it is to the “greatest wilderness on Earth,” says Menon, swivelling in his chair at work.

Gathering funds
If there is one hitch, it is the cost involved. Menon pegs the amount at approximately R14 lakh for the 13-day expedition. With just four months to go, the clock has started ticking. Worry though isn’t creasing Menon’s brow.

“I am going to seek sponsorship from visionary companies who are pioneering the idea of sustainable development and socially conscious global organizations who work for a greener tomorrow. I am also considering approaching travel websites.

I am looking at crowd funding too, though that is Plan B. Right now, I’m working on video pitches that I can present to potential funders, explaining the project and my role in it. I start pitching within this week itself,” says Menon, barely able to catch his breath. “I am determined to make it, I have already confirmed I am on board.”

Preparing for extremes
Adaptability seems to come easy to Menon, who offers to change into a formal shirt for our photo shoot (he is dressed in an ‘the umpire strikes back’ tee). The attitude is going to come handy in Antarctica’s weather (minus 30 degree centigrade).

Menon says the peripatetic life he leads has helped him prepare for eventualities. “I love extreme weather,” he shares. “Early this year, I spent a month in the winters in Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. It was for a project called Living with the Monks. Here, temperatures hovered at minus 37 degrees centigrade, pretty close to Antarctica.”

Menon’s late father served in the Army, so he spent his early years “moving all over the country,” leaving him open to possibilities. “In any case, I rarely complain. I am in a situation because I wanted it, so I have nothing to grumble about,” he says, suddenly shedding the bohemian vibe to take on a sagely persona.

The future is bright
The lights will shine brighter this Diwali for Menon, who says he is on the cusp of achieving his biggest dream, “to represent my country abroad for a prestigious gathering, to carry India’s flag on my shoulder and the kind of responsibility it brings with it”.

Outside, all is quiet. The din of traffic around Deonar is softened where Menon works in an office situated in a lane tucked behind the main road; bougainvillea blushing bright pink outside the balcony.

He swirls his chair to go back to his zany desk, focussing on a laptop screen that carries the picture of an icy vista, dotted with tuxedoed penguins and sea lions as cool as champagne on ice. This is the virtual Continent. In four months, it will be real for Menon.

Greenbacks for going green
Help Arjun Menon go to Antarctica. Email artleavesamark@gmail.com for details or call Arjun on 9833197362

The power of crowd funding
It is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising several small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet. It has caught on in the last few years to fund everything from cinema to treatment for a disease.

Swansong sung true
Robert Swan is one of the world’s most eminent polar explorers and environmental leaders. By 33, he became the first person to walk to both, the North and South Poles, earning his place in history alongside the great explorers and adventurers.

His 900 mile journey to the South Pole stands as the longest unassisted walk ever made on earth. Swan’s lifetime goal is working towards the preservation of Antarctica as the last great wilderness on earth.

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