Across the world there are tales of women who take up adventurous careers as a challenge. They fly planes, climb mountains or travel to space on a rocket launcher. Some among them have another remarkable quality. They know how to include their striking achievements into their normal day-to-day life. Fifty-five year-old Dr Padmavati Bandhopadhyay is one of them.

At home, she is like any other mother, happy to retell tales from the Mahabharata, cook elaborate meals for her family. But this mother of two boys has the distinction of being the first woman Air Commodore in the Indian Air Force.

The First Woman to Fly High in the Air Force [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
The First Woman to Fly High in the Air Force [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]

Padmavati’s achievements are many. She was the only woman in the batch of officers to join the Air Force in 1968, and the first female doctor to join the Air Force, in the new medical wing. Padmavati and her husband Air Commodore S.N. Bandopadhyay were the first wife and husband team to be awarded a special service medal for their work during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Again, the Air Commodore was the first female officer in the Indian Air Force to do a special study of the Arctic region. She was also the first woman to be made a fellow of the Aerospace Medical Society of India, an institution that deals with a very advanced form of medicine.

It was in 1962 that Padmavati joined the Air Force Medical College, at the time of the Indo-China war. Born into a Tamil family, she remembers her childhood as being normal, like most children’s. Far from being a dare-devil in childhood, she remembers being the cry-baby who burst into tears every time she was upset.

The news of her joining the Air Force shocked many, including her mother. Her relatives were sure no one would marry her. Today, these very people can’t stop congratulating her.

Right from the beginning Padmavati showed that she had the mental toughness to rise to the top of her profession. Along the way, she learnt to speak fluently in English and Hindi, and was comfortable eating with forks and knives. She preferred to learn rather than feel sorry for herself.

And even today, Padmavati is ready to take on any challenge.

378 words | 3 minutes
Readability: Grade 7 (12-13 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: features
Tags: #indians, #air force, #indian air force, #childhood

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