Ithought it was a tough battle, and everyone else thought it was a lost one. It was only logically Indian to consider it foolish to aspire to be a military pilot as an Indian girl. But I wasn’t sure of the closed doors till I tried my might to open them. The only level playing field was offered by NCC; and I perceived that door to be the key to my career in armed forces. At the first available opportunity in XII standard, I went on to test my belief. It started with being the Lucknow Best Cadet within the first month of joining NCC and went on to establish myself on the road as best cadet in state and nation; Guard of Honour commander of mixed contingent of men and women; best in shooting; top in merit in international programmes.
I had to submit my credentials only on select occasions and I successfully rode on the wave that resulted from previously rising waters. Army announced the entry of women officers to OTA, shortly followed by IAF! Only then I woke up to witness a dream half realised. Women were welcomed only in supporting arm but it was only a matter of time before IAF welcomed women to flying branch. Cheers to that. Exhilarated with new found meaning to life; I did not get into details. The moment I joined the Air Force Academy, I could live my dreams with open eyes. It seemed like an end to all battles and I started to mould myself in the uniform.
Life wasn’t tougher as many would imagine, considering my elaborate NCC background. But what no one imagined was very tough, turning sceptical men course-mates into friends. They didn’t know what to do to with the new object that has pierced into their domain. Winning their confidence and friendship was possible only by proving myself again and again, that I am here only to complement them, and not replace; that I am only carving space for myself, and not sabotaging their habitat. I am sure it was as difficult for lot of my men course-mates to adjust with what they are not pre-groomed to see as a parallel counterpart. We all take hints from society to learn behaviour patterns from existing relationships. But examples of this professional relationship were not easy to find for my course-mates, instructors, junior officers, commanders, and worst for personnel below officer’s ranks. All of us devised various solutions and behaviour patterns. Some worked and some didn’t. Regardless, we all evolved and thrived on those golden years. Each of us established ourselves in professional relationship that was unique, and unprecedented, and was evolving only for better.
We flew together and along with my peers I settled into the roles assigned to me by IAF. Within four to five years I began to realise, that the career progression plan of my male counterparts was different from mine. Owing to my gender, the major difference was that I didn’t have an option, or choice. It dawned on me, that I am part of an experiment, and I didn’t have a role in influencing the course of the experiment. Soon my male counterparts got married and entered family life. I looked around to see my fellow women officers who, got married and just turned mothers, were battling every minute to manage their lives.
EITHER YOU CHOOSE TO BATTLE WITH WORKING ENVIRONMENT, LEAVE SANCTIONS, HALF PAY, UNENDING SEARCHES ENDING IN UNTRAINED BABY SITTERS FOR THE REMAINING PART OF YOUR SERVICE, OR YOU CHOOSE TO STEP-ASIDE VOLUNTARILY
It could appear as harmless as uncontrollable morning sickness or trouble in taking to stairs to reach tall ATC towers couple of times in the day. Lot of them had miscarriages before they could successfully give birth, because the work-front was not modified to accommodate changing physical needs. And all these women had an inherent pride that didn’t allow them to demand special relaxation and privileges, despite such life-changing health issues. It became even more difficult to nurse an infant while on duty without an urban day-care facility in far-flung military bases. Large number of children had to be handed over to grand parents, or the mothers continued to battle with their work lives.
Women who have volunteered to take this offbeat career in aviation, have shared a vision of a progressive society. They have defined new work cultures and created new family values. All of them, including me, want to gift these values to our coming generation, beginning with our own children. We also need to be equally successful as mothers. Is this possible to raise an infant while you are in the cockpit? Farfetched, with the existing route laid for aviator-mothers.
Either you choose to battle with working environment, leave sanctions, half pay, unending searches ending in untrained baby sitters for the remaining part of your service, or you choose to step aside voluntarily. I have to raise my daughter with a personal touch, so that I can show her the world my way. This can only be achieved when I’m not taking nights away from home on flying commitments. This is my ambition, and I am achieving it everyday with her. My pride as an aviator shines much more, in her eyes, and in her innocent stories. Yes. I am a mother, and an aviator. — The author flew helicopters in the IAF as a Flight Lieutenant