One could call her a role model for millions of young girls hoping to choose a career in the aviation industry, an unconventional sector for a majority of women even today. But one would agree that it is especially so for a tribal girl living in a mud house in the interior of Mancherial District, Telangana.
From growing up in a community, where she witnessed girl children being killed, stolen or sold to traffickers, Ajmeera has come a long way. Today, Ajmeera, who credits her rock solid determination in helping her realise her dreams and ambitions of soaring high in the skies, also works with different NGOs in the country, hoping to help empower women from different backgrounds. Ajmeera is also one of the motivational speakers for the Tribal Leadership Program by Tata Steel.
The icon tells us how flying became her passion to an extent that she decided to defy familial and societal rules. “My passion for flying came about as the result of an identity crisis,” she begins. “The children in our community grew up mostly without any identity, with limited choices. But I was certain I wanted to expand my horizons. Back then, we knew of no career options other than IAS or IPS, doctors or engineers, which was all we saw around us. Moreover, unlike now, we didn’t have the Internet or Google or the social media then, where you’d find everything with a single click. I had to find my own leads and offer pep talks to myself.”
Flying with her dreams
Ajmeera’s life brought her the opportunity to learn and live more when a guest from Dubai, who was visiting her family in Mancherial, requested her company to the Begumpet airport. “Being at the airport felt new and different and it got me wondering about getting into the profession,” Ajmeera recalls.
Then again, finding one’s footing without guidance is never an easy task. Even furthering her education in a college was a fight against convention. Going against her parent’s wishes, Ajmeera joined the University College for Women, Koti, to pursue her BA. Subsequently, she did her MA in sociology from Osmania University.
“After my Masters’, my father advised me to prepare for civil services so that I could secure a government job,” she recalls. Instead, she enrolled herself in an MBA in Osmania University. “By the time I was in my second semester, I was in a hostel and always talked about flying, aircraft, aviation, etc. After listening to me constantly yap about it almost every day, one of my friends informed me about an advertisement in the newspaper, calling for air hostesses.”
Ajmeera successfully completed the interview and joined Air India as an air hostess. But she had other plans. “I joined thinking that being an air hostess would provide me with some idea about how to become a pilot,” she shares.
The ‘fighter’ pilot
Nothing comes easy. For one, no one believed that becoming a commercial pilot was a viable option for a girl. Though Ajmeera approached several ministers and politicians seeking aid, it was 2014 when she finally found help — Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao granted her the economic aid she needed, a package close to Rs25 lakh.
Finances in hand, Ajmeera and her close friends got down to researching the best institution to get her wings from. After much research, she chose to enrol in the Commercial Pilot Training License Course in the Dean International School Flight School in the USA. Once back from her training at Dean, Ajmeera cleared a test by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the regulatory body in India for civil aviation, and began her first flying job as a VIP charter flight pilot.
“But the timings of working with VIP charter flights were severely erratic, so I joined a domestic airline,” she tells us. Her flight into her dream job, however, couldn’t take off because by then the pandemic hit town. “It’s been in a standstill but once it gets better, I’ll start flying again. Meanwhile, I plan on opening my own academy either in Hyderabad or Bangalore sometime next year,” says an optimistic Ajmeera. “Aviation industry in India is growing well, with many flying clubs, institutes and airlines coming up. Even airports are expanding. So I believe the opportunities are wide and varied roles. And I’ve bought the entire ecosystem and am considering a partnership.”
Until she realises that dream, the fighter has been visiting hamlets with their sarpanchs to conduct awareness programmes in those areas. Ajmeera has also been working with the Karnataka and Assam Governments to help underprivileged girls and women, showing them what they can all aspire to become in life. Even so, Ajmeera sells no fairy tale dreams about being a pilot. “It’s not an easy job. Only the really interested and focused should become a pilot, for you carry the responsibility of many souls,” she explains. “But if you have the passion, then nothing can stop you — believe in yourself first to succeed.”