Women in History: India’s first pilot Sarla Thakral
Married at the tender age of 16, Sarla Thakral was mother to a 4 year old when she created history. In pre -partition times, the young woman took off in a two-seater plane called the Gypsy moth in 1936 in Lahore, becoming the nation’s first woman pilot to do so. She was 21 then. Her flight into the skies at that young age was ably supported by her husband. P. D Sharma was a commercial pilot himself, perhaps the reason why he was so open to the idea in those times. With him at the cheering line, she went on to complete 1000 hours of flying, also becoming the first woman pilot to have a flying license in her name. [Feature Image Credit: Tribune India]
Sarla Thakral’s life is a prime example where the men gave up their age old bastion of patriarchy to acknowledge and encourage a woman’s dream
Three years after earning her first flying license, Sarla’s husband passed away in a car crash. The second world war broke out soon after, due to which she had to discontinue her training and subsequent flying career. In one of her earlier interviews she is quoted as saying:
It wasn’t so much my husband. My father-in-law was even more enthusiastic and got me enrolled in the flying club. I knew I was breaching a strictly male bastion but I must say the men, they never made me feel out of place.
The world war ended her piloting dreams, but not one to sit idle she undertook a diploma course in fine arts from the Mayo School at Lahore. The partition brought her to New Delhi and subsequently, she married a second time. The then translated her fine arts education then into a profession. She went on to design jewellery and costumes for illustrious clients like Vijaylakshmi Pandit, as well as the various cottage emporiums and National School Of Drama. On local support structures, her experience was uniquely progressive.
In one of her last interviews to Tribune, before she passed away in 2008, she said:
I believe in doing things with my own hands. I don’t waste time, don’t take an afternoon nap and don’t need help to cook and for other chores. Every morning I wake up and chart out my plans. If there is plenty of work I feel very happy otherwise I feel a precious day has been wasted
Sarla Thakral’s life is a prime example where the men gave up their age old bastion of patriarchy to acknowledge and encourage a woman’s dream. She dreamed of taking off in the skies, and no one clipped her wings. We hope for more stories like this.