The crashing of the first female pilot of India

Sarla Thakral, the first woman in India to receive an "A" licence in piloting an aircraft solo for 1000 hours, passed away today in 2008. She could not pursue her career as a commercial pilot due to the Second World War.
Sarla then and now; Source: Public Domain

Sarla then and now; Source: Public Domain

War not only affects the soldiers, their families, friends and the civilians in the crossfire. For it has many ripples, some bigger than others, and some, while still small, quite consequential for the lives of those who suffer.

One such woman was Sarla Thakral, born in 1914. Her life would take a turn for the worse in a war, however, her journey before that must be told. She would be renowned in India as the first woman to acquire an “A” grade pilot’s licence in 1936 - accumulating 1000 hours of flying!

Her preferred aircraft was a de Havilland Gypsy Moth, a tough biplane built in the 1920s, favoured for training and touring purposes. And she was not alone in this effort either. Flying had been known to Indians since some time - and her husband’s family had had 9 sons go into the field of piloting, by no means a small feat. PD Sharma would also encourage his wife, Sarla, to try her hand at flying.

PD Sharma himself was the first Indian to get an airmail pilot licence, even as her wife became the first registered woman pilot of the country. Both trained out of the Lahore Flying Club, where she could fly solo after only 8 hours of training. Thus, it came as no wonder when she earned the “A” licence at barely 21 years of age.

However, things took a turn for the worse when in 1939 her husband died in a plane crash, leaving her and the kids behind. Furthermore, as she kept trying to pursue the dreams of becoming a commercial pilot, her ambitions had been blocked by the ongoing Second World War - which threw every resource into the war effort.

Now Sarla had to crush her dreams, as she had a family to care for, and left it to join the Mayo School of art, where she would train in fine arts, and a jewellery business, which she would continue even after migrating to India during the Partition, till her death on the 15th of March 2008.


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