HYDERABAD: When her 138 fellow trainees were undergoing gruelling training, 24-year-old Aishwarya Girish Awasthi had to endure that and some more to prove her mettle. Amid the difficult training period that stand as a testament to her perseverance, she was struck with a double tragedy. She lost both her father and brother, yet continued to chart the path she chose.
Even before the training began, Aishwarya’s father GR Awasthi, who was a Group Captain, died of cardiac arrest. This was in May 2017. A few months later in December 2017, she joined the course at the Indian Air Force academy. However, her tragedy was not over yet. Ten months later, on November 5, 2018, her younger brother Anshul Awasthi drowned in sea and died. At that point, Aishwarya was a mere month away from completing the course. Anshul was a third-year engineering student who had dreams of joining the Air Force later on.
“It has just been a month since my brother passed away. My wounds are still fresh. When I heard the news, I sought leave for four days and returned afterwards. I could not afford to take more than that. I had to complete my training. And finally, the day I was waiting for has finally come,” said Aishwarya. She was speaking to Express a few hours after receiving her rank as the ‘Flying Officer’ at the Combined Graduation Parade held on Saturday at Air Force Academy, Dundigal.
Aishwarya had joined an MBA course in a private institute when she received a call from the Academy. She wasted no time and soon left to join the IAF. “Since college life did not demand physical training, I had to struggle when I came here initially. But during the course of the training, I began to improve in the mental, physical and emotional aspects,” she said.
7th woman fighter pilot in IAF history graduates
Out of the 35 fighter pilots who graduated from the Air Force Academy this year, only one is a woman. Priya Sharma is the seventh woman fighter pilot in history of Air Force, and third from Jhunjhunu district of Rajashtan. Native of Pilani from the State, she was in awe of ‘Hawk’ and ‘Jaguar’ planes which she used to see regularly as her father-an Air Traffic Control officer- was posted in Indian Air Force Station, Bidar, and now she looks forward to flying them.
The newly commissioned fighter pilot initially found it a little difficult to get adjusted to cockpits in different types of airplanes. But now they have become her home, and finds the cockpits comforting as they are familiar spaces. Before her, Mohana Singh and Bhawana from Jhunjhunu district were commissioned as fighter pilots.”This is motivation for other girls to join defence forces. Also, gender parity in Air Force motivates other women,” said Priya Sharma.
Two Hyderabadis among 139 graduates
Among the 139 trainees who are commissioned as flying officers, at least two of them are from Hyderabad. Kirti Singh and Akash Saraswat have been living in Hyderabad for the past 15 years. Kirti Singh was commissioned as an administrative officer. Her father Awadesh Singh is a retired Army personnel. Though her elder siblings joined government and private jobs, she was determined to join Armed Forces.
Though she too wanted to be a fighter pilot, she could not make the cut because of her height. On Saturday, she was commissioned in Administration branch of Indian Air Force. Is she disappointed? “I wanted to be part of forces and did not mind which ever branch was tasked to me,” Kirti said. Aakash
Saraswat is another Hyderabadi who is commissioned as a fighter pilot. After the Parade, he was standing in the same hangar where his father Niranjan Saraswat worked as a Air Man. “I was a non-commissioning officer and he is a commissioning officer,” said Niranjan beaming with pride.
From serving sweets to serving the country...
One of the newly-commissioned Flying Officers, Gaurav Chaudhary from Uttarakhand, used to take care of his family by running a sweet shop. After his father was diagnosed with a nervous disorder, Gaurav had taken it upon himself to take care of his family, while simultaneously continuing his studies. He even took up other odd jobs and continued his fight against circumstances. Now, he is a commissioned Flying Officer in the administrative branch.