Riding the crest
PREETI VERMA LAL
Meet Malaika Vaz. She has so many accolades to her name it is difficult to name them all.
What would you expect a preppy, lissom 15-year old to talk of? Justin Bieber? Boho braids? Sock bun? Tangerine and citron yellow as the hot 2012 autumn colours? Well, most — almost all — 15-year olds would go Bieber-ish. However, this 15-year old can knock off all clichéd definitions of being a teenager.
Standing tall — very tall — at 5 ft 11 inches, this Goan 10 grader can in one long breath talk of Alex Haley’s Roots, hum John Lennon’s “Imagine”, look deep into your eyes and convince you that global warming can have catastrophic consequences, narrate stories about her Antarctica expedition, sing paeans to her inspirations David Attenborough and Mike Pandey, talk sedulously of her dream of being an environment crusader and show with pride the sweat glistening on her forehead after a long day at sea practicing wind surfing. This 15-year old can completely take you by surprise. Her earnestness is real. Her optimism contagious. Her enthusiasm meticulous. Her dreams irrefutable.
Her name: Malaika Vaz.
Her credentials: Countless. She is ranked No. 3 in national wind surfing. No. 2 in Regatta. She was the only Asian selected for The Students on Ice Expedition into Antarctica. She was the first girl to be a Naval Aviator for a day. She is brand ambassador for KOOH and Woodland Adventures. While you read this, she’d be in Thailand honing her skills to become the Asian windsurfing champion. And soon, she’d grow wings by acquiring a pilot’s license in Winnipeg, Canada. And no, she never goes Bieber-ish. That’s not her idea of a teenaged delight.
She revels in Lennon’s Imagine-d world where there is no heaven, no hell…Above us only the sky. Imagine everyone living for today… Imagine there are no countries. Nothing to kill or die for. There’s no religion…
Reiterate the lyrics and Malaika will tell you that Lennon’s “Imagine” should be the unofficial national anthem of all countries.
Surprised that a 15-year-old can pack so many dreams and ideas in her lithe frame? Quiz her about it and she’d vehemently assert that she is “not too young to think of the environment. Or, to dream to save the environment — and the world — by spreading awareness through wildlife documentaries”. Her teenage streak peeps in when she tells you “it is all right to call me a kid” and she “loves spending times with her friends” but prefers “reading and writing.”
Not many summers have gone by for this Aries girl who was born with a Vaz surname. The Vazs’ are one of Goa’s leading business families. She grew up amidst the verdant greens; took to the sea like a duck. But for Malaika swimming was not merely about efficient strokes and counting laps — it was in these depths that she fell in love with the Nature, specially marine life. She swam, completed her advanced open diver certification for scuba diving. Her parents never pushed their first-born towards academics. Perhaps they had a premonition that their little girl was destined for a life beyond the perfect A+ grades.
Malaika loves the colour pink and Goan Konkani food. She also has a pet peeve — littering. She is coaxing her friends to become environment-friendly and she is optimist that the someday soon our environment will stop hurtling towards disaster. If she had a magic wand, she would swoosh it in air to metamorphose this world into a nuclear-free zone. She’d swish it again to turn the clock back and bring all extinct species back into life, specially China’s Yangtze River dolphin. She is keeping her fingers crossed that the tigers and whales will survive the onslaught and live happily ever-after as an essential component of our existence.
Didn’t I tell you this tall — very tall — 15-year-old can defy all clichéd definitions of being a teenager? She surfs with the wind proficiently. All she needs is the wind beneath her wings.
By Meera Vasudevan
September 25, 2012
A couple of days ago, I read about the illustrious ‘Students on Ice Expeditions’ programme which allows youngsters between the ages of 14-18 years to participate in educational expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic circles.
One such deserving candidate who explored the Antarctic in December 2011- January 2012, is Malaika Vaz, a gifted and hard-working Indian student from Goa, having already explored the Arctic (in 2011) with the same team.
Fourteen-year-old Malaika is involved in tiger and whale conservation; a voracious reader; a certified scuba diver and a national- level windsurfer.
She has visited Steve Irwin’s farm in Australia, participated in the naturalist skills workshops at Romulus Whitaker’s Crocodile Bank and the environmental camp at the Andaman Islands.
‘Students on Ice Expeditions’ was introduced to inspire and educate talented and environmentally-aware activists and scientists.
The polar exploration and research provides them with a greater understanding and respect for the planet.
Geoff Green, a leading Canadian adventurer, environmentalist and educator, is the founder and executive director of this award-winning educational organisation based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada and has been leading expeditions and adventures from pole to pole for the past 15 years.
Geoff and his team of experts inspires the student participants to feel one with the land and undergo a deep emotional connect with nature.
This bonding, they sincerely believe, will transform the way the younger generations will understand and act in this world.
The ambitious Vaz, who aspires to make wildlife documentaries, says that through this expedition, she has made friends for life.
Completely aware of the existing level of man-made damage to the earth, Malaika says, “No matter what part of the world you’re from, little things you do affect the Antarctic, and what affects the Antarctic today will affect the world tomorrow.” Her words, I hope, will hit a note deep in the heart of each Indian.
The writer is a popular actor