Back in 1936, when aspirations and dreams of women were chained and carefully monitored by society, to think of a woman who broke free into the skies and flew an aircraft is as surprising as it is inspiring. Sarla Thakral, who winged her way into the skies back in those days, became the first Indian woman to get an aviation pilot licence and fly an aircraft. She stands as an inspiration for many.
Married, barely 21-years-old with a four-year-old daughter, Sarla found her dream turning into reality in the cockpit of a Gypsy Moth. Dressed modestly in her saree, she took to the skies and made a mark in history.
Unlike other girls her age who were not really allowed to explore and follow their dreams in a nation still fighting and struggling for independence, there were little or no opportunities for women. Sarla was helped by her husband and father-in-law to fulfill her dream and she went ahead to fearlessly pursue it, setting a precedent for many.
In an interview with TribuneIndia, she recalled, "My first husband was a pilot as were some other members of his family. After I got married to him at 16 and was blessed with a daughter, both my husband P D Sharma and his father encouraged me to fly.
My husband was the first Indian to get airmail pilot’s licence and flew between Karachi and Lahore. When I completed my required flying hours, my instructor wanted me to fly solo, but my husband was away. All I did was ask for permission to wait till he returned."
Once she took off and explored the skies, there was no looking back. Sarla's husband died in a crash in 1939 after which she went to Jodhpur to get a commercial pilot’s license. Unfortunately, World War II broke out and flying was suspended.
She took to painting after that - she returned to Lahore and joined the Mayo School of Art where she trained in the Bengal school of painting and obtained a diploma in fine arts. Later, when she moved to Delhi after the Partition, she remarried.
"I dabbled in designing costume jewellery, which was not only worn by the who’s who of that time, but also supplied it to Cottage Emporium for 15 years. After that I took to block printing and the sarees designed by me were well sought after. This too continued for 15 years. Then I began designing for the National School of Drama and all along I kept painting."
She likes to "take things to their conclusion." Even if it gets "a bit painful" for her to sit for longer hours, she does not give up.
In the interview, she reveals her motto,
With girls still facing an indefinite number of problems in the society, struggling day in and day out to overcome all the obstacles that come in the way of their dreams and the some women still finding themselves chained in homes and hostels after sundown, Sarla Thakral sets an example of leading a fearless life, of living her dreams, of keeping the hope for support alive and reminding us of the possibility of a world where gender divide does not exist.