‘Hard core’ Kashmiri girl flies high

 Interview

She was 14 when she first dreamed of fly high. At 16, she became the youngest girl with Kashmiri origin to be awarded a Student Pilot License (SPL) from prestigious Bombay Flying Club. Now, 18, she has set her goal to achieve the Commercial Pilot License (CPL) at the earliest.

On International Women’s Day, Kashmir Reader spoke to Ayesha Aziz, who hails from North Kashmir’s Baramulla district and proudly calls herself ‘Hardcore Kashmiri’.Ayesha Aziz, in conversation with Kashmir Reader Correspondent Khurram Rasool.

Excerpts from the interview:

Kashmir Reader: You are the youngest and first Kashmiri female to be awarded the student pilot license from the Bombay Flying Club. Tell us how and when it actually happened.

Ayesha Aziz:  It actually began after I cleared my 10th grade examinations in 2011. I always had this burning desire to become a pilot right from the childhood. Probably because I wanted to do something extraordinary, I wanted to tread a path which is mostly not chosen. I knew what I wanted to be. Actually, my father hails from an industry background due to which I had a broader exposure to various things that most of the kids of my age aren’t exposed to. The exposure helped me realize my dream. I am very fond of traveling, exploring and learning new languages and this seemed the best suited career for me.

How old were you when you enrolled yourself to become a pilot?

I enrolled myself at the age of 15. It was my father who told me about Bombay Flying Club after knowing my decision of becoming a pilot. I don’t have any background in aviation. I am the first one from my entire family, both maternal and paternal who chose this stream. So, I did not have anyone to guide me. Nevertheless, I along with my father went to meet the principal of Bombay Flying Club to seek an admission. It was our first meeting and he was quite impressed by my passion and dedication that he instantly agreed on getting me enrolled in Bombay flying Club for Student Pilot License (SPL) training.

How did you manage both school and flying classes simultaneously? Did it affect your studies?

The fact that I had my regular school classes from Monday to Friday and flying classes only on the weekends helped me mange both things pretty well.

Enlighten us about yourself and your family

My father is actually a Delhite, settled in Mumbai while my mother belongs to North Kashmir’s Baramulla district. I was born and brought up in Mumbai only. I completed my schooling from Mumbai’s Christ Church School. Soon after my schooling, I joined Bombay Flying Club. Currently I am pursuing B.Sc in aviation alongside training for Commercial Pilot License (CPL).

How many exams did you have to pass and over duration of how many months?

I had to clear two exams each for the Student Pilot License (SPL) and Flight Radio Telephone Operator’s License (FRTOL). It took me more than four months and I attended classes twice a week over weekends. I am now a proud holder of both the licenses.

How does it feel to be so famous at just 18?

Great, I had never thought that I will be so renowned one day. Today my profession has become my identity. And I wanted it that way, Alhamdulillah.

Share with us the experience of your first flight as a pilot.

 It was January 2012 that I flew for the first time ever and it was amazing. There is this term in aviation called ‘Solo’ which means flying on your own. It is only when one flies solo that one gets the feels that he is a pilot. Same was the case with me. I actually believed that I am pilot when I flew solo, without being dictated by an instructor. It was great and I believe me, I wasn’t scared, not even for a second. From my 105 hours of flying, I have around 30-40 hours of flying solo to my credit till now.

You were selected by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) panel for space training programme in US. Tell us about it.

It so happened that when I was in grade 11th, NASA visited my school to select meritorious students for space training program. I was fortunate enough to be in the list of toppers. Three students were selected and I was one among them.

How was the NASA experience? What did you learn and what impact did it have on you?

There are many things that I learnt there. I wasn’t something like ‘luck by chance’; it definitely was once in a lifetime opportunity. I had a wonderful experience but unfortunately I couldn’t meet Sunita Williams there since she wasn’t available. However later the year, I get to meet her in Bombay. She had come for a seminar at Nehru Science Centre. Since I am the member of Nehru Science Centre, I was invited for the seminar and I had this privilege of sitting in the front row and pose questions to Sunita Willaims. What she told me is something that I want to share with people. She said, one does not have to be an astronaut to get into NASA, he just has to be master in his subject be it whatsoever.

Who is your inspiration?

Sunita Williams.

Your career aim and future plans.

For the time being it’s just one thing and that is to crack Commercial Pilot License test, which is no easy task. I intend to become a commercial pilot and fly a commercial jet.

What do you like least and best about your profession?

The fact that it is a ‘white collar job’ is what fascinates me the most about my career. In my childhood, if I would see a pilot donning the uniform, it used to enthrall me.

Being a Muslim girl, I would want certain things of my religion to be in my career. But the fact that it nowhere links with Islam is something that disappoints me. It’s ‘ayaash’ field, a glamour world where there are nights out, traveling and a person gets detached from home. That is what I don’t like about it.

How have your parents responded to your choice first and now on your success?

My parents have been my backbone all through till now. They have acted like huge support system to me and motivated me. Yet my mother was initially very concerned about my safety due to the risks involved in this career but I built her hopes. It was a kind of a challenge for me being a part of an Islamic society where people don’t like girls outshining boys. But my parents have always stood by me.

 What links you with Kashmir? What do you like most about Kashmir?

Smiles. I have an emotional bond with Kashmir. My entire maternal family is there. We have our own house in Kashmir and I personally cannot stay without visiting Kashmir at least twice a year. Visiting Kashmir twice a year is must for me. Believe me, I was telling my mom yesterday take me to Kashmir `loal chu aamut’. I am proud of the fact that I have my roots, my blood there.

Being a hardcore Kashmiri, I love Wazwan besides the beauty of Kashmir.

How hard or easy is it for a girl to become a pilot in India especially those with Kashmiri origin?

If you have a burning desire within you to do a certain thing, nothing in this universe is going to stop you. I don’t think it becomes difficult unless and until one doesn’t have that passion within itself to accomplish it. Today, nothing is easy, everywhere there is competition, but the determination, passion and desire helps one deal with matters.

Your hobbies

Writing, Swimming, Badminton, Cycling and Horse-riding.

Share with us your key to success

(Laughs) My mantra is, `I can, I will and I am the power.’

You became an inspiration for many girls out there overnight, any message for Kashmiri girls who like you intend to fly high.

Believe in yourself and you will always achieve your goal, no matter what.  Follow yr heart. Do want u want to. Don’t end up doing something that others want you to do. And I would like to request the parents of girls in Kashmir that they should not limit the education of their daughters. Like they say, if we educate a man, we educate an individual