UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS – The Pilot
From my very early exposure to mills and boons days, I believed that nurses always fell in love with doctors, simple girls were swept off their feet by the stinking rich businessmen and the Air hostesses married the Pilots and lived happily ever after.
I took to Mills and boons in my early teens, but much earlier than that, when I was a little girl, we had a neighbor called Kashyap aunty. At home we called her the boff-cut aunty, but never mentioned that in public. Boff-cut aunty had short hair that barely fell upto her shoulders and was always neatly brushed.
For a girl with two pigtails plaited and doubled up with ribbons, Kashyap aunty's hair style was the last word on fashion. Actually it was not just her hair style, It was Kashyap aunty’s cherry red lipstick shade that made her a fashion icon in the eyes of me and my sister. Between the two of us, she was referred as the lipstick aunty and not boff-cut aunty.
Kashyap aunty was married to Kashyap uncle. Kashyap uncle was an airline pilot. Those were the days, when you never asked ‘which airlines’? Obviously it had to be Air-india or Indian airlines. Kashyap uncle worked for Indian airlines and Kashyap aunty met him somewhere up-in-the-air when she worked for them as an airhostess. Mills and boons story come true !!!
(The fact that the Kashyap's was a 'love' marriage was disclosed to Amma by Daulatbai, who was the domestic help at both our homes. Her job, it was, to cross pollinate vital information in the neighbourhood with a little bit of her own flavor added to it. In our family such type of scandalous information would normally be classified as Triple X and would only be for the consumption of adults. I overheard this bit only because the day Daulatbai casually mentioned this to Amma when she was sweeping the floor under Amma's close supervision, I was down with flu and was supposedly sleeping in the bedroom since I was taken off from school.)
Kashyap auntyquit her job after marriage because that is what Indian airline’s of those days stipulated as rules and regulations. ‘Equal opportunities employer’ had a different definition in those days. Just because, she worked for Indian airlines, do not imagine Kashyap aunty to be a fat, grumpy middle aged woman that you would normally associate with. She was tall, slim, fair, fashionable , neatly dressed even when she was at home in her cherry red lipstick, manicured finger nails painted with light shades of pink nail polish and draped in gorgeous georgette sarees that accentuated the curves around her hips.
I was sure, I wanted to be an airhostess when I grew up.
I was not sure if I wanted to marry a pilot though.
(Kashyap uncle was’nt exactly what you could call handsome. He was an Amol Palekar look alike. He had a flick of oily hair, a pencil thin moustache, was short by normal standards, repulsively fair skinned and had a voice like Sachin's.)
It was expected that all decent school children would aspire to become a scientist, astronaut, engineer, doctor or chartered accountant. The problem with all these professions was that you needed to study well. That was a bar raised far too high for my standards. From what I was told, being an airhostess, required some basic qualifications but not much of sweat and blood by way of academic excellence.
You had to be pretty, fair skinned, flawless complexion and decent looking. And that was something I was hoping I would manage to pull off, when I grew up to that age.
Everything was on track. I grew up to that age, believing I had all those qualifications. It was only a matter of time and the long oily plaits would have to go, the bushy eyebrows would get trimmed and I would have my own vanity case, with lipstick and nail paints of various shades and brands.
With all that, the tall, dark and handsome pilot would automatically follow.
As I joined college, I started making enquiries about how and when of the job openings for being an airhostess. Everything seemed to be working well, but for that one vital statistics.
I saw the quarter page advertisement in the Hindu for air hostesses for the newly launched airline. Among all other things that were required to becoming an air hostess, there was one shattering piece of requirement that broke my heart.
Minimum Height : 5 feet 4 inches.
Everything else was workable. Flawless skin, not married, good communication skills, weight,
But Height !!!
Blame it on my Genetics. There is only so much you can do about that.
No…high heels shoes would not help.
Discrimination, I wanted to cry out.
Why should’nt a petite five feet one inch aspire to become an airhostess ?
All I needed was just two or three more inches.
What does Height have to do with being a nice and efficient air hostess ?
Ok, I do understand, a petite five feet something may not be able to close the cabin baggage shutters as effortlessly as those 5 feet 4 inches and above do. But so what, what are the men hovering around there for ? Is’nt it the charm that she exudes matter the most ?
Anyway, those arguments would fall flat because employers could pick and choose. In those days employers did not crawl at your feet like they do today.
I let go of my dreams of becoming an airhostess and drifted by whatever came across in life by way of jobs that made up my career.
Years later, when I now fly, I really pity those air hostesses who mindlessly pull out the yellow colour oxygen mask and monotonously simulate the safety instructions that nobody ever cares to listen. Working long, arduous and unholy hours doing the same thing over and over again would not have been my idea of an ideal job. But that is all in hindsight. When I was growing up, becoming an air hostess, was the most glamorous and respectable profession that a woman could aspire for unless she wanted to become a teacher or a lady doctor. Preferably a gynaecologist or a pediatrician.
When roles models were far and few to come by, Kashyap aunty, that ex-indian airlines air-hostess was a real life icon to be worshipped.
That perception changed over a period of time. To be precise, it changed last year.
Last year, I was going to be flying in a private jet. My joy knew no bounds when Boss announced that I would accompany the visiting dignitaries in the private jet to the other city. This was very exciting, as it was going to be my first time in a private jet although I have flown commercial airlines plenty of times.
We arrived at the small air-strip from where the jet would take off. There was no queue at the security counter. This was VIP security checkup, but a full fledged one. An unassuming BMW drove us down to the hangar.
From the steps of the small aircraft came down a petite ( 5 feet 1inch) young girl to welcome us personally aboard the private jet that would get us to our destination in about 40 minutes. Her name was Priyanka and she showed us our seats. There was not much by way of seat choice or seat numbers. Seating in a private jet is just like a ‘Tata Sumo’ with a total of 8 seats. Four facing forwards and four facing sideways, with the cockpit directly visible to you.
My jaws dropped when I saw, the person seated at the pilot’s seat in the cockpit. The petite ( 5 feet 1inch) Priyanka was actually Captain Priyanka.
In a flash my mental image of her changed drastically. By now, I was in complete awe of her.
I was not sure if you could disturb a pilot during take-off, but for that I would have gone and fallen at her feet or hugged her.
I have heard of many women becoming pilots in the air-force and some also fly commercial airlines. But none, has ever escorted me into a flight, introduced herself and engaged in small talk before actually sitting in the prestigious seat at the cockpit. Definitely not a petite, (5 feet 1inches) young, good looking woman.
Times have changed. And this time, she had raised the bar.
On our return journey, I made a note to interview the Petite Priyanka and get to know her better.
Ah...she turned out to be such a sweetheart.
This time UNUSUAL OCCUPATIONS features Captain Priyanka - the Pilot of a private jet.
She (unlike me) had always wanted to be a pilot. That, her father was from the armed services helped her nurture her ambition. She graduated from college and then trained to become a commercial pilot. Considering Commercial flying takes a toll on your time and work hours, she decided to fly private jets and that is how she was here flying us on that day.
An IT professional’s worth is measured by the number of year’s of experience. ( Never mind, even if he was fiddling his thumbs for many months when he was on bench or was doing some intellectually numbing copy paste job for a good part of his career) .
Similarly, I was given to understand that a pilot’s professional worth is measured by his ( or her) number of flying hours. She told me that in the last few years of her profession, she had put in some XX number of hours. From the looks of it, she seemed to be liking her job in a very matter of factly manner. There was no pride or boastfulness in her talk or mannerisms. She told me that there were plenty of women pilots these days and she was nothing out of the ordinary.
She had no idea, how much, I was in awe of her.
In my eyes she had raised the bar for what a woman, a petite woman could aspire for.
I asked her if she would pose for a photograph.
My privilege, Ma’m … she replied.
I was embarrassed.
Petite Priyanka and I ....
Captain Priyanka at the cockpit.
P.S: I have this nagging question ringing in my mind. If young good looking girls started becoming Pilots, whom would they fall in love and get married to ?
May be I am a little out of date with recent editions of Mills and boons. Need to catch up.
This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.