By Mohd Ismail Khan, TwoCircles.net,
Hyderabad: ‘Dream big, determination and hard work can take you to skies’. These are not the words of some wannabe motivational speaker but from a shy young woman from the narrow lanes of old Hyderabad who has literally touched the sky.
Meet 26 year old Captain Syeda Salva Fatima, who with a total 200 hours of flying experience including 123 hours solo flight, is a holder of commercial pilot, private pilot and flight radio operator licenses. Captain Salva was born, brought up and resides in the narrow lanes of Sultan Shahi in old city, her father Syed Ashfaq Ahmed still works in a local bakery to earn a living.
When poverty and conservative atmosphere clips the wing of many aspirants, captain Salva found the resonance of once life and ambition in the challenges faced by her.
A mild tune Salva told TwoCircles.net that since childhood she dared to think different and always wanted to achieve something unconventional. When herd of youngsters of her age group were going up for engineering and medicine, Salva dreamed of piloting an aircraft.
She said her fascination of becoming a pilot began in 9th standard, “During my school project I came across a newspaper article which gave a list of women commercial pilots in India, there was not a single Muslim in it. I found it pretty amusing given that community women were making mark in other fields, that day I decided I will fill up that void.”
Captain Salva may soon become the second Muslim woman Pilot in India. So far Saarah Hameed Ahmed (25) from Bengaluru is the only Muslim pilot among 600 odd women pilots employed in the aviation industry.
Salva began collecting every newspaper articles she got hands on related to aviation, her humble roots never discouraged her from dreaming about the ambition of becoming a pilot. She even took admission in MPC stream of Science (Maths, Physics and Chemistry) having basic knowledge that stream was must to gain admission in aviation industry.
She narrates that though she had burning ambition to fly but at the same time had her foot on ground, knowing what it costs. “From the beginning I knew that pilot training was beyond my family’s capacity,” she told TCN. She even faced trouble at times during her intermediate education and was able to finish it only through fees concessions on merit scholarship.
But it was touch of a fortune to her dream which landed her on pilot’s seat. After her 12th she was preparing for EAMCET examinations at a free coaching center at Diwan Dwedi run by Siasat Urdu daily. Its Editor Zahid Ali Khan was the chief guest to inaugurate coaching classes. During an interaction with students Zahid Ali Khan asked students about their future plans. All of them settled for engineer or doctors. When the turn to answer the formal question came for Salva, the answer even for Mr. Khan was quite exceptional, ‘a pilot’, answered the girl draped in Black Burqa.
Soon all the formalities were broken, an enthralled Zahid Ali Khan in the auditorium full of shocked students promised her all the financial help to become a pilot.
In 2006 Salva Fatima started preparing for medical tests and entrance exams for three different academies in Hyderabad, which very well meant a gap of one year in her education. “It was a tough decision for my family but they stood behind me as my biggest support,” she said.
With the help of Siasat Urdu daily Salva Fatima got admission into Andhra Pradesh Aviation Academy, and finally in September 2007 the moment has arrived, she sat in the cockpit and controlled the training aircraft in the sky, “It was a great feeling, I was touching the sky, it was the feeling when you realize all your hard work and struggle has paid off, I can never forget my first ride.”
The five years of rigorous training was not easy either, at every step she was made to realize the hardships of her ambitions, but she emerged stronger.
“Training course and examination was challenging. In a year we had to pass four exams which use to be very difficult. My well-off classmates use to take special coaching in Delhi to pass those exams; I had to depend on all self-study. I even failed few times in papers but at the end with Allah’s grace I passed them all.”
Captain Salva is once again standing at the cross roads of her career, excited having achieved commercial pilot license, she is now looking for a job at Indigo airline or Spice jet, but another roadblock doesn’t seem far for her career marred with challenges. “If I get an offer letter from any two of those companies I will need to go for another additional training. For Indigo I will need to learn to drive an Airbus and for Spice jet a Boeing aircraft, along with Multi engine and type writing course which will cost around 30 lakhs.”
But this doesn’t discourage captain Salva from planning for future, “I am looking for sponsors and I am quite hopeful to find some. I have firm believe in Allah, he has brought me this far, there is no looking back now.”
Captain Salva wears Hijab as part of her identity and said she never felt that her identity or where she came from ever became any hindrance, rather it was a sense of motivation from the beginning. “I came in the field conscious that there were no Muslim women around,” she said adding, “I tried my best to wear Hijab even in academy; I seldom removed it, only when I use to require wearing headphones while piloting the aircraft I had to do away, but that’s not a problem,” she told TCN. Captain Salva felt the moment we start to feel embarrassed of who we are, we will not just lose our self but our meaning of life.
On the occasion of women’s day she had a message for everyone especially for her fellow community girls who are aspiring to do special things in their life like her, “Work hard have a strong will, don’t care about final result, with Allah’s grace and strong determination there is nothing unachievable in this world.”