The president of India Pratibha Patil will be changing from a traditional sari into a fighter pilot’s G-suit on her maiden Sukhoi flight today. In that connection it is important to recall India’s oldest woman pilot Sarla Thakral.
In 1936, Sarla Thakral, a 21-year-old married woman with a four-year-old daughter, soared into the sky.
In the cockpit of a Gypsy Moth, dressed modestly in her saree, Sarla’s flight into the firmament landed her a place in history. She became the first Indian woman to fly. Sarla’s husband and her father-in-law helped her achieve the ambition.
Her first husband was a pilot. After she got married to him at 16 she was blessed with a daughter. Her husband was the first Indian to get airmail pilot’s licence and flew between Karachi and Lahore. When she completed her required flying hours, the instructor wanted her to fly solo. Once she took off, there was no looking back. After her first husband died in a crash in 1939, she went to Jodhpur to get a commercial pilot’s licence. Unfortunately World War II broke out and flying was suspended.
A dedicated follower of the Arya Samaj sect, she was remarried to PP Thakral, when she moved to Delhi after the Partition. She dabbled in designing costume jewellery, and also supplied it to Cottage Emporium for 15 years.
— Jayant Kulkarni