Flight Plan

She wanted to become a pilot but history willed otherwise

Ashwini Phadnis, V Rishi Kumar | Updated on July 07, 2020 Published on July 07, 2020

Anuradha Reddy   -  K_RAMESH BABU

Anuradha Reddy recounts how she became an aviation historian instead, and gave her dream wings

What do you do when you can’t pursue your passion? You do one better. At least, that is what aviation historian Anuradha Reddy did. Born on the midnight of India’s Independence, Reddy wanted to become a pilot but when she could not become one, she became an aviation historian, instead.

Reddy, settled in Hyderabad, is satisfied with the path that she chose. Talking of her various flirtations with aviation, she says, “I was one-month-old when I travelled in a Deccan Aviation DC 3 from Hyderabad to Bengaluru. My mother paid ₹1.50 as she wanted a bassinet for me. In those days, they did not have bassinets. How was I to know that my future father-in-law was piloting the aircraft? Subsequently we always flew Deccan Aviation as it connected everywhere in the country. We flew Deccan Airways till 1953 when it was nationalised. Then we flew Indian Airlines as that is what it became,” she says. She recalls that air travel in those days was more fun — with their pet dogs travelling with them.

Growing up in a family of aviators — her uncle and many other relatives flew aircraft, including one who flew during the Dresden air bombing in the course of World War II — it was natural for Reddy, too, to consider a career in aviation. However, her two attempts at joining mainstream aviation did not succeed.

In her first attempt, Reddy convinced one of her uncles to teach her how to fly. “Okay, young lady, be at the air field. And please do not wear a saree,” said her uncle who promised to pass on his flying skills to her; he was a commercial pilot. Her father was not in town and Reddy thought this was the best time to get her flying lesson. She spent the morning looking for a salwar kameez to get ready.

But fate willed otherwise. Her father returned early from his official duties. “Where are you going?” he asked her uncle. “I am taking Anuradha on a flight,” replied the Uncle. “Oh, where is Anuradha going?” her father asked. “Nowhere, I am going to teach her how to fly,” replied her uncle. Those words put an end to Reddy’s dreams of becoming a pilot.

She made another attempt in 1959 — she applied for a job as an air-hostess with Air India. But again, fate played a hand — she needed her father’s approval to apply for the job. “We grew up at a time when we were not educated in terms of jobs. We were educated because we needed to be educated,” she says, when asked whether her father was okay about her not learning how to fly but marrying into a family full of people connected with aviation (Reddy is married into a family involved with Air Deccan).

Stories meant to be shared

Reddy, who has a bachelor’s degree in Geography and another in Sociology, took her failed attempts at flying in her stride and decided to chronicle all that has happened in Indian aviation — beginning with her own family. What inspired her to walk on this path was a realisation that nothing about aviation was being chronicled. The pilots and others connected with aviation that she came in touch with had interesting stories to share but no one had written them down.

Reddy felt that valuable information was being lost and it needed to be chronicled and shared. So, she tracked down people, travelled across the country meeting the ones who were still alive, collecting their stories and photographs. She used these for writing five books on aviation, one of which is Aviation in The Hyderabad Dominions.

“It is better because I see everyone’s dreams. If you are a pilot, then you are limited to your time, your service and your age and all of that. In my case, it gives me the option of learning about everybody’s interests,” she says.

And chronicling it for posterity too.

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Published on July 07, 2020
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