Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Women With Wings

Women in India just breached a whole new frontier. They not only broke the proverbial glass ceiling but absolutely smashed, shattered and scrunched it in the bargain. The powers that be in India, in this case read, ironically, the men, have finally decided that women will now be inducted as fighter pilots into the Indian Air Force. They will no longer serve as just arm candy for the men flying those mean machines, but will now actually fly into combat zones themselves, in those million dollar air crafts. One of the reasons that the men in command had given for many years for inducting women only in the non combative wings of the Air Force was that they shuddered at what the women's fate would be, if their planes were brought down into enemy territory. Considering the fact that our country's capital has been infamously dubbed as the rape capital of the world, I would have thought our neighbours should have had such apprehensions, not us! Turns out, unlike us, they do trust us with their women in, God forbid, such an eventuality, because we are the last people on the sub continent to strap our women into those bombers and allow them to let all hell break loose... Well, better late than never!
I like lady pilots. I trust them. A couple of years ago, a really tiny air craft brought us back from the coastal town of Mombassa. I was petrified! Then I saw that we had not one, but two lady pilots, and all my fears melted away, even as I acknowledged that we were in not just good, but great hands! Maybe this almost instinctive trust and faith has its roots in having met a girl who was training to be a pilot, well she was a mere girl then, when I was in my early teens. Here's the story of how we were fortunate enough to have met her and the role we, or rather my mother, played in her journey towards acquiring her wings!
My father was posted to the city of Guwahati in Assam, in the North Eastern part of India. He was away on a course for a few months and so it was just my mother, my sister and me, going about our daily routine. My mother was teaching in the same school that my sister and I were in. We left together each day and came back together in the Army 'Bus'. One evening my mother got a phone call that a certain gentleman was looking for a place to board his daughter as she wanted to complete a certain number of hours on a particular type of air craft, as part of her training to be a pilot. She had come all the way from Mumbai but no one was willing to offer her room and board and to take responsibility for her, as the general consensus among all the Army and Air Force wives was 'Girls have affairs', affairs being the Indian euphemism for getting physically involved with a member of the opposite sex, same sex relationships not even being euphemistically acknowledged in India! My mother's rage, when she heard this, knew no bounds and she sharply retorted that if this girl wanted to have affairs she could have done so in Mumbai itself, where she would have had a better choice than the one in our smaller corner of India! She asked those catty women to give the girl a chance before questioning and labelling her motives!
And so my mother called up the number that had been passed onto her, spoke to the girl's father who turned out to be a pilot himself with what was India's one and only domestic airline then, and arranged to go and meet him and his daughter at the airport. He offered to pay for her room and food for the one month that she would be there but my mother absolutely and firmly refused to accept a paisa and said his daughter would stay in our house in exactly the same way that her two daughters did! My sister and I helped tidy up our guest room and cleaned out the cupboard for her to keep her things and then she was dropped off at our house that very evening by the people who had put her up for a few days. We had a house guest!
Once the ice was broken, we chatted with her. We had never met a lady pilot earlier though we lived in the Air Force colony and almost all our neighbours were male pilots! Twenty six years ago women were not inducted into any of the three services in India, and being fighter pilots was a very distant dream then! Petite, with green eyes, wavy hair and impeccable manners, she was a constant source of amazement during those first few days for my sister and me because she actually flew a plane! We had never flown at that point in our lives.Indian Railways, not Indian Airlines, thrived on Army brats like us! Her father and both her brothers were pilots! Her sisters had opted out of what seemed to have become a family profession and one of them is a doctor, the other a dentist. Their mother, a very sweet lady, whom we met many years later, had the important job of keeping all these high fliers firmly grounded and she has succeeded admirably! I have never met a family that remains so humble, despite their numerous achievements.
The next morning my mother confidently gave her a spare set of house keys as we all left for school, since she was to leave for her training after we did. Imagine giving your entire set of keys to a perfect stranger! She was even given my sister's bicycle key, so she could cycle to the airport! Yes, she had to cycle so she could fly...Later when we got to know each other well, my mother admitted that she did entertain the thought while teaching in school that day, that the whole thing could be an elaborate scam and we might come home to find that the house was completely empty and we had been royally robbed by a trickster father and daughter pair! Our flying lady, in turn, confessed that she was wondering why my mother seemed so keen to house her for free and the fleeting thought had crossed her mind that my mother might be the 'Madame' of some unsavoury establishment! She had recently watched a movie on those lines, she said! Everyone's fears were soon laid to rest and we all got along famously. She became family, even rushing to get my mother's house slippers every morning and making her put them on, so that my mother would not have to stand on the cold floor as she made and packed lunch for all four of us. She even lent me her trousers and top to wear for a party I had to attend, just the way a sister or cousin would! She offered to take us for a joy ride in the little training air craft but that was the one thing that my mother firmly put her foot down about! My sister and I were really angry and sulked for ages but she did not give in... Today with two kids of my own, I understand her sentiments perfectly!
Her father was flying the Calcutta, now Kolkatta, Guwahati route and every Friday he would get fresh vegetables for us from Calcutta and she would pick them up from the airport and get them home. He also sent the most delectable Bengali sweets that came in little earthern pots and lots of 'free' airline sweets that my sister and I enjoyed to the hilt! We were enjoying having our pilot guest stay with us and these little treats, sent by her kind father, were like icing on a delicious cake!
All too soon she had flown the requisite hours and the month was up. She was slated to go to the States for the next part of her training. When she finished that, she sent word that she had applied for the job of a pilot for India's international airline! She cleared every test with flying colours and managed a record of sorts by becoming Air India's FIRST lady pilot to clear even all the medical tests, all those years ago! How proud we were of her and were so glad that my mother had done what she has always been doing, encouraged and helped a young girl to do what she really wanted to. This had allowed her to finish that part of her training well in time to apply for this coveted job and open up a new frontier for women in India, for many women are now pilots with Air India. I have often flown with them, though never with our own special lady pilot! I am sure that day will come sooner or later.

12 comments:

  1. A flying kiss for the writer and for the first lady flyer of ' Air India'. Thanks you God for giving me a chance to 'Serve' the Goddess 'Shakti '!

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  2. Thank you God! Mistake regretted.

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  3. What a writing Anupama! Felt like I am experiencing it live. And true to be said "Every woman is Shakti herself & every woman feels that her Mother is one of them" Also a stage in life comes when you start realizing that Shakti within yourself too. - Trupti Modi

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    1. Thanks a ton Trupti and what you have said is very true!

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    2. Thanks a ton Trupti and what you have said is very true!

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  4. Anupama....very motivating blog...


    Manjusha Pattewar

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  5. Anupama....very motivating blog...


    Manjusha Pattewar

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  6. Anupama so beautifully written.Hats off to you for introducing your pilot friend so lovingly, and to your mom for taking her under her wing when she desperately needed it. if i remember correctly is she one Miss Khadtale ? i can recall you telling me about her.

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    1. Thank you Medhavini mami! N u are absolutely right! What a memory you have!

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    2. Thank you Medhavini mami! N u are absolutely right! What a memory you have!

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