Rucha’s Story: Her Father and Captain Kunal Khajuria

Today, 12 percent of pilots on Indian airlines are women.

Rucha Nirale, Flight Commander, shares an excerpt from her career journey with an example of how her father bucked Indian tradition and helped her achieve her aspirations. And, she talks about the bold advice her mentor gave as she was appointed the role of flight commander.

This excerpt is shared in partnership with the book Wonder Girls: Success Stories of Millenials who Fought to Do It Their Way (by Varsha Adusumilli, published by Juggernaut Books).

“I would often tell my parents that it was my dream to join the air force. They were apprehensive about my decision because they’d never heard about girls in the air force. But, despite their fears, my parents didn’t stop me from sitting for the air force exams. Unfortunately, I didn’t clear the eyesight exam and was left heartbroken.

My father then intervened with a solution to my predicament. ‘If you are so bent on becoming a pilot, why don’t you try civil aviation? The medical requirements for the air force and civil aviation are different.’ His advice lifted my spirits. It was like going up in the air against gravity. My father and I began to research and enquire about civil aviation courses and job opportunities in the aviation sector. As luck would have it, a new college called Institute of Aviation and Aviation Safety had been established in Mumbai. It offered a BSc in aviation.

I was one of the four girls they picked for a class of thirty. Everyone who knew about my decision advised my parents not to send me to aviation school. ‘It’s a risky job.’ ‘Is it safe for women?’ ‘She’ll never be home.’ ‘Why are you spending so much money, and that too on a girl?’ ‘What if she doesn’t get a job after all this investment?’ ‘Who will marry her if she’s never around?’

My father never wavered from the decision. Once, at a family wedding, my father lost it with some of my relatives who were going on about my career choice. ‘Fine! She won’t get a job,’ he snapped. ‘We’ll lose our money. Is that the worst thing that could happen to us?’ My father shut everyone up. I was so proud of him that day, and his steadfastness helped cement my courage. I realized that it doesn’t matter what society dictates or says if you have the support of the people who matter most to you. He told me he had faith in me and that I could do it. There are not too many Indian parents who would resist family pressure. I am forever indebted to my parents for supporting me and allowing me to choose my future.

In 2011, I became a flight commander. I was anxious about my new position. I was twenty-six, and didn’t think I was ready for such a responsibility. As a flight commander, you are the ultimate authority. You are responsible and answerable for everything that goes right or wrong while flying. I hesitated to accept the offer, but my mentor, Captain Kunal Khajuria, pushed me to go for it.

‘Just go out there and figure it out. How will you ever find out whether you are ready or not if you don’t try?’ he said. His trust in me and his reassuring words made me take the leap.

Of course, I was delighted to accept the post. All my hard work had finally paid off , and my parents were super proud of me. Also, I must add that when you see heads turn as you walk into a room in your uniform, it gives you a different kind of thrill altogether!

Being a pilot is all about sacrifice. When people are holidaying and spending time with their families, I am working the hardest. As a young woman, you should consider both the pros and cons of a career choice. Not every day will offer clear skies. On some days there will be thunderstorms too. And when there is a thunderstorm, you have to find a path through the sky and stay focused on reaching your destination.”

– Rucha Nirale, Flight Commander
Mumbai, India

Don’t miss Rucha’s full story of her career journey as a pilot, in Wonder Girls, now out in India and selected parts of the U.S. You can also access the book digitally here.

We are delighted to share this story in partnership with the book’s author, Varsha Adusumilli, and publisher, Juggernaut. Read the partnership announcement.